Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

Columbia County News

City Manager Wendell Johnson takes
center stage at city/county sit-down

Part of the Lake City front line listens to Veteran Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams. (left to right - Freshman Councilman Jake Hill, Veteran Councilman Eugene Jefferson and the City's new quarterback, City Manager Wendell Johnson.)

By the conclusion of the November 18th city/county sit-down, it was clear that after four months on the job, Lake City's new straight talking City Manager, Wendell Johnson has found his sea legs, proven that he is a quick study and shown that he is a manager who can and will take advantage of the talents of his staff. At Wednesday night's city/county sit down, it was the City Manager who took center stage.

The county provided the topics for the evening's agenda, which never made it to the county web site. Water at Ellisville and EMS were the main topics the county brought to the table.

Ellisville Utility Project

The Ellisville Drinking Water Project has cost millions, hasn't had any oversight by the county until the 12th hour and could have been avoided if Columbia County had listened to itself, when it said over and over, "We don't want to be in the utility business."

Commissioner Ronald WilliamsCommissioner Ronald Williams told the City, "I was very disappointed that we could not come up with a rate on water for the Ellisville Project. If we would have been able to we was goin to use the wells for recharge , in a sense of speakin."

A little later on Com Williams said, "We don't want to go all over the county puttin out wells."

City Manager Johnson told the county, "Any arrangement whereby the city would provide the water supply would be subject to the criteria of the state statutes for the out of city rates..." CM Johnson said when there is an industrial development or a large commercial prospect there is a "potential for negotiations.

The Lake City Utility is the regional utility which includes a radius which fans out five miles from the city.

Com Williams told the city, "We would have been the largest user the city will ever have."

CM Johnson was clear. After explaining that he was only in the county for four months, he said, "I did not see any evidence of a rate that would have been conducive to the city participating based on the cost of the city to provide it."

CM Johnson continued, "Our city engineer, Henry Sheldon and our Utilities Director, Dave Clanton were involved in all these meetings... I made every open-minded effort to find a way to work this project... The reality is, the potential users and the demand – for the volume of water that it would take justify the city extending the line and providing supply – I just didn't see it."

CM Johnson mentioned that some time in the future the conditions might be right and told the Commission that he and the city would work with the county in any way that they can.

The County has never explained why after spending millions at Ellisville they are still looking to buy water from the city.

EMS - The Outstanding Payment

Item "8" of the county prepared agenda read "Outstanding EMS Payment."

The county contends that the city owes the county $250,000 for providing EMS services to the county residents who are also Lake City residents

Once again Commissioner Williams kicked off the conversation, "We got an outstanding invoice. Did we ever see payment on it yet?"

Columbia County Manager, Dale Williams listens to City Manager Johnson.

City Manager Johnson mentioned that in 2007 both the city and the county asked the Attorney General for an opinion. [The opinion - see pg. 2] CM Johnson said that he had read the AG's opinion: "I read it. I understood several components of it. First and foremost is that the County is a licensed emergency care provider and they have an obligation, based on Wendell Johnson's opinion, to all the citizens of Columbia County, which includes the residents of Lake City, because we are county tax payers as well.

[County Manager Dale Williams interpretation of the informal AGO can be found here.]

CM Johnson continued: "I heard that a position has been taken that there is going to be a point certain in the future where there is no longer going to be any services, EMS, provided in the city limits. I hope that is not a true vision of the leaders of Columbia County."

CM Johnson said that he stands committed to working toward a solution of the EMS problem. He suggested the city and county attorneys should sit down and try and "work it out." "Failing that, CM Johnson said that it may take another AG opinion."

Com Williams said it costs the county more than $250,000 a year.

CM Johnson said that all citizens, county and city contribute to the revenue sharing fund that the county uses to fund EMS.

CM Johnson said that he has done his own analysis of the $250,000 fee for which the county is billing the city.

CM Johnson: "It shows ratios. It shows cost factors. I think I can show with reliable accuracy that the cost of $250,000 to provide service in the city of Lake City is inflated... I think the numbers speak for themselves... "

Com Williams told the City Manager, "Mr. Johnson, I viewed that scenario and figured it out... We take the whole pie and whatever it costs to make that pie."

CM Johnson: "... I have to admit, I'm not a math major, but I am a financial manager and I looked at a data report that I feel has merit; it's based on real information; real cost factors and that's what I work from. I don't work from speculation."

County Manager Dale Williams told the City Manager, "Wendell, we don't have the benefit of all that history and I understand that. Certainly we have an obligation to sit and hear what you have to say... but what you're alluding to has been argued by the county and what the county's reaction was is we're not interested in providing it [EMS] at cost."

County Manager Williams said if the city thinks they can provide it for less than they should do it.

City Manager Johnson: "I'm not arguing... That's an easy out... That's not where I am... Hopefully we can come to some understanding that we can all agree with."


Ellisville Utility Sidebar - dateline

The Ellisville Drinking Water Project's well field is located next to what Com Dewey Weaver explained could be the largest feed lot in Florida. On the other side of the well field is a spray field for a sewer plant.

 On December 2, 2004, the County quietly entered into a contract with Eutaw Utilities, the prime utility consultant for the county at Ellisville.

 By April 5, 2007, the day the county approved the Ellisville Project, millions of dollars in property transactions had quietly occurred in Ellisville.

 During the September 15, 2009 county utility subcommittee meeting the Observer asked if anyone had ever seen the well tests from Ellisville. When well driller, Ronnie Hughes told the County utility subcommittee that he had the water well test results, subcommittee chairman, Com DuPree ignored him.

 A week later, the first set of test results finally showed up, with blank pages and questionable results. When the quality of water was questioned, more test results suddenly appeared.

 On October 13, 2009, a history of the city/county water rate negotiations which occurred in 2007 was prepared by County Manager, Dale Williams. Many relevant documents were intentionally missing from this report. County Commission Chairman, Stephen Bailey, gave a public stamp of approval to this deficient report.

 On October 13, 2009, the Observer asked for the notes or minutes prepared from a meeting held in December 2008, in which CM Williams met with Com DuPree to discuss the Ellisville utility history. While the record is clear that CM Williams communicated with Com DuPree about this meeting and the commissioner was advised that a summary was being prepared, all notes and materials have been withheld or destroyed.

 The Observer has been advised that both the state Inspector General and the US Department of Justice are looking into the Ellisville Water Project.


Links on this page:
What is recharge
AGO informal
County Manager Williams opines