Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

County Commission News

The Ellisville Utility Project
Money down the drain
(The county meeting)
(go to the city meeting)

The Columbia County Commission, still homeless, had their county utility meeting in the Jack Berry LSHA's newly renovated old jail. After spending millions, the county walked away from the meeting without a plan and without anyone to operate their unfinished Ellisville Utility Project.

Columbia County has been in the utility business since 2006. The County Commission and the County Manager did everything but proclaim from the mountain tops that they did not want to be in the utility business. Three years later after the squandering of millions of dollars the Ellisville Utility Project is still in disarray.

Since 2006, County Manager Dale Williams has been at the helm of the Ellisville Utility Project.

Since 2006, County Manager Dale Williams has been at the helm of the Ellisville Utility Project. Recently the leadership torch was passed on to new leadership.

The Columbia County utility debacle now has at its helm Columbia County Commissioner, Jack Berry protégé -- Jody DuPree, who when talking about the wastewater (sewer) problems in Ellisville told the County Commission at its September 3rd meeting:

Commissioner Jody DuPree: 

He's what my intent is. Is that and I told staff today is that instead that the utility committee hears the pro forma and the information on the sewer portion of the ~unintelligible~ intent that by the 11th, Mr. Williams should give all of us a pro forma.
    We should then look at it – look for ourselves of the sewer plant as presented as feasible and then at the board meetin after the ten, which is the 17th – that gives everybody a week to look at where we at. And on the 17th instead of having to go to us – come here – and let's all hear it for the same time at the same time and then we decide that night if we're goin to go that route -- and the answer is no we're not – we've got to steak that it will – then – what we'll do then depends – we'll go back and start counting two ~unintelligible~.

The usual lack of oversight and Columbia County's legendary ability to cover up all its mistakes are finally coming home to roost. The illegal shade meetings between the county manager and county commissioners have not stopped and brazenly continue in the County Manager's office. A high placed county official (name withheld) recently observed Commissioner DuPree meeting with the County Manager and another commissioner in the County Manager's office.

Over the past month there has been utility meeting after utility meeting. The city has met; the county has met and they have met jointly. At the city meetings there is an air of calm and professionalism. After years of experience, with some missteps along the way, the city utility now operates as a well oiled machine.

Commissioner DuPree is in the habit of starting meetings without all the principals in attendance.

The county utility meetings are now run by Commissioner DuPree. Com Dupree began the August 2nd meeting without the Clerk, the City Manager, the City Utility director or the City Engineer present. All the city folks were invited and in the building at the time.

Mr. DuPree questioned the County Manager about beginning the meeting without the Clerk, i.e. the Clerk of the Courts – DeWitt Cason. It was reported that the County Manager said to start the meeting – they were recording it. This part of the meeting has disappeared off the county recording.

Life long well driller and county resident Ronnie Hughes is taking it on the chin dealing with the county.

At this past Tuesday's, September 14th, county utility meeting, Mr. Dupree again began the meeting without all the main characters present. Well driller Ronnie Hughes who was first up on the agenda and County Attorney Marlin Feagle arrived together five minutes late. It is unclear why Mr. DuPree didn't begin the meeting with something else or just wait a few minutes.

During the meeting the county rejected all the sewer plant bids that were opened on the previous Friday. It was clear that the decision to reject these bids was done well in advance of the bid opening.

The County Manager (CM) Dale Williams claimed that there were fourteen people and twenty nine businesses in the service area of the proposed Ellisville utility. The Observer drove past the "business" district in Ellisville and was hard pressed to find eight businesses doing business in Ellisville.

County residents about to go on the hook to subsidize the mistakes of the County Commission and the County Manager.

During the meeting, CM Williams also said that both the waste water and drinking water components of the utility will have to be subsidized by the County Commission (that's the working families of the county) and that in 2006 the County Commission knew and agreed to this.

The Observer scoured the Board minutes from 2006 and could not find one word indicating the county would be subsidizing the utility rates in any public meeting.

The Observer did find that "the county has purchased close to $900,000 worth of property to be used for spray irrigation for the project." The Observer has been unable to find these numbers in any recent accounting by the County Manager. It is also unknown where that money came from.

The county claimed to not have possession of the test well results.

As a result of the utility meeting the Observer discovered that the County was not in possession of the well water test results, but that the results were in Tallahassee.

A confidential source has explained to the Observer that Mr. DuPree has recently discovered the politics of the land dealings in Ellisville.

It is well know that many of the rich, powerful, and well connected families have invested in or have property in the area of the Ellisville Utility Project and it is perfectly clear to anyone that has followed this project from the beginning that it was never about getting the 14 families in the area decent water.

Like the Great Columbia County Fire Rate Rip Off, it's about the Columbia County good old boys taking care of the Columbia County good old boys.

It is time that not only Mr. DuPree, but everybody involved in this helter-skelter squandering of the public funds in the ill thought out Ellisville Utility Project should come clean, or be made to come clean. – ed.



Somebody should be held accountable for this boondoggle and the squandering of what could be millions of dollars of county, state and federal money.