Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

The Great Columbia County Dog and Pony Show

The great dog and pony show gets underway

On Thursday morning May 27th, at 8:30 am, the biggest dog and pony show in the history of Florida's Columbia County took place at the Richardson Community Center in Lake City. Every past and present local politician and wannabe showed up to see, be seen and rub flesh with their brethren, bringing to mind Rodney King's famous refrain, "Why can't we all just get along."

The other local press, the Lake City Reporter and the Lake City Journal did their usual imitations of Pravda and Izvestia, hear no evil – speak no evil, news reporting and left their readers only with the feel good company side of the story.

The rest of the story

Ms. Norris presents the IDA power point
The IDA Chairwoman, Suzanne Norris, does not know the basics of presenting a power point.

Hundreds of on the clock work hours were wasted as Columbia County's famous and beautiful came to the microphone for their fifteen minutes of fame. Some gave important information. Some left much unsaid and others just replayed the same old tired material that they have been talking about all over town for months.

The Superintendent didn't mention the well known fact that a favorite pastime of many at the high school is having sex in the bathrooms between classes.

The four most important speakers at the gathering were in order of appearance, City Manager Wendell Johnson; County Manager Dale Williams; Superintendent of Schools, Mike Milliken, and the SRWMD Executive Director, David Still.

The booby prize for the worst presenter had two main contenders, Suzanne Norris of the IDA and Jack Berry protégé, Commissioner and County Utility Committee Chairman, Jody DuPree.

Of the two people who just don't get it, Ms. Norris grabbed the top spot.

No one was looking at the powerpointThe IDA's Norris, true to form, read a PowerPoint presentation that was just plain boring and one that most in the room couldn't read on the screen because the type was too small.

This time around, Ms. Norris spared sharing with the audience the IDA's new found knowledge, after spending $80,000 of tax payer money, that the "customer comes first," that it is a good practice to "call back the customer," and that "it is good to use adjectives in every sentence." One would hope that the IDA's new found knowledge finally became too embarrassing for even Ms. Norris to present again.

City Manager Wendell Johnson

City Manager Wendell JohnsonLake City's straight talking City Manager, Wendell Johnson, has so far proven that he is a first rate municipal manager. After a few moments of political fluff he got down to the straight talk.

He explained that the City Utility is humming along.

He said that the new water plant was designed to carry the city and the county twenty years into the future and that he expected the new waste water plant to be under construction by next summer.

City Manager Johnson said, "The new rates are designed to pay back the cost of the new construction."

He explained that the city's debt has been restructured and that plans are underway to continue with the study for the redevelopment of the downtown.

County Manager Dale Williams

County Manager Wendell JohnsonColumbia County's veteran County Manager, Dale Williams, was short and to the point.

He told the assembly that things are tight and revenue is down $10,000,000 in the past three years.

He said, "I am not hearing anyone talk about tax increases. This presents a challenge."

Superintendent of School Mike Milliken

Superintendent of Schools - Mike MillikanThe most important aspects of Superintendent Milliken's remarks, other than his rundown of the increasing free and reduced statistics (now over 60%), representing an increasing poverty level in Columbia County, were the things he left unsaid.

It is a well known fact that a school district is the anchor to any community and as the school district goes, so does the community.

Columbia County's high school has been a "D" school six years in a row. When the phone is answered at the High School the conversation usually begins like this, "Good afternoon, Columbia County High School – Welcome to the jungle."

The high school curriculum guide says "Welcome to the jungle" right on the cover.

Many people have reported to the Observer that the dress code at the high school is never enforced, "Their britches are down around their ankles and the language is horrible," seems to be a majority view.

The Superintendent also didn't mention the well known fact that a favorite pastime of many at the high school is having sex in the bathrooms between classes.

Suwannee River Water Management District
Executive Director David Still

David StillExecutive Director Still told the Observer, "Water is my passion."

Mr. Still pointed out that the average family in rural northern Florida uses 125 gallons of water a day, which is a far cry from the number presented by the county of 275 gallons a day.

Mr. Still told the assembly "we are in trouble with water - other people around us are taking our resource away."


County Commission Chairman Ronald Williams, a man who spurns among other things, computers, higher education, spread sheets and the public, and who along with Com DuPree was the guiding light in the county's sudden rush to head off the moth balling of the Ellisville utility, proclaimed to the world a few months ago, "We in the utility business."

The County Chairman now wears his new slogan, one that has been around for some time, like a badge of honor, "Columbia County's future is now." He has made banners with the proclamation and wants everybody to display one.

The meeting concluded with the Chairman thrusting his fist into the air and rallying the participants and spectators to join in the chant, "Columbia County's future is now." Within a few moments, the crowd had joined in the chant, fists thrust into the air, a scene reminiscent of another time and place.

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More on Columbia County Economic Development:

Plum Creek on the move in Columbia County $190 million,  75 long term jobs on the docket (November 18, 2011)

Columbia County Economic Development: Will Lake City continue as the "red-headed step child?" (August 4, 2011)

Workforce Florida, streamlining by adding another layer of bureaucracy: Cost $750,000 (July 27, 2011)

FL Economic Development Czar Speaks - Musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic? (July 24, 2011)

Columbia County: Garbage Capital of North Central Florida? (June 7, 2011)

Tallahassee: Economic Development Legislative Session Wrap-up (May 31, 2011)

Florida's Economic Development Czar Came to Columbia County - Really (May 31, 2011)

Columbia County Economic Development Blowin' in the wind - 20 years too late (March 2, 2011)

Economic Development in their own words (Jan 24, 2011)

FL Enterprise Zones under the gun (Jan 23, 2011)

County & IDA Drop the Ball - Again (Jan 05, 2011)

Columbia County's inland port decades late (Jan 03, 2010)

Columbia County ranks 5th in the nation in the unemployed (Dec 18, 2010)

IDA Continues sub par under County management (Nov 29, 2010)

County Economic Development
Making it up as they go along
(Oct 06, 2010)

Lake City Planning for Future Downtown - County Commission MIA (June 25, 2010)

The Great Columbia County Dog and Pony Show (June 02, 2010)

IDA Rudderless • Web presence a mess (Feb 02, 2010)