Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Columbia County News
Beginning in 2013 County & County Commission News will be here. Earlier
years will be found in either County News or County Commission indexes
Index of Stories  • 20172016-201520142013 2012-2009

County News 2014 (scroll down)

Suwannee Valley TA Pays $257,318 in Exempt OT
DOT OIG Wants an Explanation

Posted December 29, 2014  06:40 am

COLUMBIA - HAMILTON - SUWANNEE COUNTY, FL – Last Monday, December 22, the State Attorney empanelled a grand jury to hear matters concerning the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority. Ten days before, on December 12, 2014, the Florida DOT, Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its long awaited Advisory Report on the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA).

Columbia County 5 Bails Out Suwannee Valley TA After It Runs Out of Money - Again: Gives $50,000

Posted December 18, 2014  03:25 pm

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) was front and center at the Columbia County Commission (County 5 or The 5) last night. Once again, the SVTA ran out of money. Records that were not made available to the public in advance of the meeting, in violation of the County Charter, show that on December 1 the SVTA was $50,600 behind in its bills. The request from the SVTA for a $50,000 grant from Columbia County's taxpayers made it onto the County's agenda. There was no explanation how it got there.

The Blanche: Johnson & Decker want inclusion "Anybody that wants a seat will have one"

Lake City's Blanche Hotel: $15,000,000 Renovation Discussion Off & Running

LAKE CITY/COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday's 8:30 a.m. discussion by the handpicked "Grassroots Blanche Stakeholder Committee" went off on time as City Manager Wendell Johnson led the discussion of the proposed $15,000,000 renovation of the downtown landmark. Ninety minutes after a bit of a shaky start, the committee seemed to have found itself heading for a community project in which the pro and con sides are going to have to come together to make this successful for Columbia County/Lake City and put its historic downtown back on the map.

Columbia County's Bloodless Coup: A New Era at The County 5?

Posted December 5, 2014  08:27 am

Renovation of Blanche Hotel on the Launching Pad:  Will everyone have a chance to participate?

Posted December 4, 2014  01:55 pm

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The renovation and revitalization of downtown Lake City's deteriorating Blanche Hotel was on the docket at yesterday morning's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB or Board) meeting. City Manager and EDAB member, Wendell Johnson, gave the committee an update. He announced that a committee was formed and Chamber of Commerce Director Dennille Decker had taken "a leadership role in putting the stakeholders committee together."

Economic Development Chief Glenn Hunter Working for Success in a Crowded Field

Posted December 4, 2014  06:20 am

Environmental Activist Asks County 5:
Will You Ban Fracking in Columbia County?

Posted November 21, 2014  07:50 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County's County 5 met last night in a two hour plus commission meeting. A large part of the evening was taken up with conversations concerning water: the kind you drink – flush – play in, water conservation, springs protection, and the gorilla soon to be in everyone's room, Amendment 1: what did you really vote for?

Paula Vann Takes the Helm of Columbia County's TDC: A new era begins

Lake City's Last Chance Hotel, the Blanche
Plans On the Way to the Columbia County 5

Posted November 7, 2015  07:45 am

Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter Gets $140,248 Free Pass From the County 5

Posted November 6, 2015  06:30 am

Columbia County Firefighter Promotions:
"Now You See Em' – Now You Don't"

Posted October 30, 2014  03:15 pm

Vann Clan Has Big Month: Land Give-a-Way; Lien Goes Away; Nephew's Wife Gets Big County Job

Posted October 21, 2014  10:21 pm

Tourist Development Council Meets - Number 4 Pick Recommended to The 5 - Nobody Smiling

Posted October 16, 2014  09:21 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday's high noon meeting of the Tourist Development Council (TDC) gave no surprise when the TDC was presented with a choice to either buck up against the County 5 (The 5) again, and seek a qualified TDC Director with tourism, sports, and vacation experience, or to go along with The 5's flexed muscle appointment of Paula Vann, the daughter-in-law of one of Columbia County's premier good ole' boys, Marc Vann.

County Economic Development Advisory Board  Talks of Tennis – Double Faults Into Disarray

Posted October 9, 2014  09:35 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting double faulted into a meltdown of disarray as the members questioned the purpose and direction of the Advisory Board. Newly hired Economic Development Director, Glen Hunter, who had been under fire for being involved in meetings regarding grandiose plans for a tennis center, tried to clear the air without much success. In a bizarre action, Mr. Hunter asked the EDAB to approve the 2015 Economic Development Budget, a budget which had been approved by the County 5 last month.

Did The 5 Drop the Ball: Will County Web Designer-Programmer Be Lured Away By Fair Pay?

Posted October 3, 2014  11:59 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, after months of backroom dealing and squandering tens of thousands on useless and unused salary studies, the County 5 once again had on the table the salary of the County's in-house programmer/web designer. After working in the shadows for months, The 5 finally reached an agreement that could be publically discussed. Sitting on a stash of cash estimated to be about $40,000,000, The 5 finally agreed to change the job title and admitted that the employee had been doing much more than for what he was hired. The unanimous raise was barely competitive and represents .029% of the county's cash stash.

The 5 Pass $104,911,711 Budget Without A Word
Pass on Nash Gas; $10k Salary Increases; More

County 5's First Budget Hearing - $104,911,711
The Legendary 5 Don't Disappoint
Columbia County 5

Posted September 9, 2014  10:10 am | news-commentary

The County 5: A $2,000,000 Technicality From Columbia County's Spendthrift Royal Board

Columbia County 5Posted September 5, 2014  07:40 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, the over $2,000,000 in improvements to the Southside Sports Complex once again did not include any mention of the “Field of Dreams,” the handicapped accessible field for those not as lucky as The County 5, Columbia County’s royalty packed spendthrift County Commission. The emergency communications system upgrade report was another whitewash by County management. As usual, and in clear disregard of the intent of SB50, the Florida law which is supposed to allow public comment, Commissioner Nash made the motions to approve over $2,000,000 of budget amendments without any public comment.

County 5 Reschedule Board Meeting On Night of Lake Shore Hosp Auth Budget Hearing: Why?

Posted September 2, 2014  11:40 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Meeting scheduling of Columbia County's infamous County 5 (The 5) has once again given the back seat to Columbia County's residents. In order for The 5 to make a pilgrimage to rub shoulders with other county commissioners at the Florida Association of Counties (FAC), a lobbying group for Florida Counties, it has rescheduled its September 18th board meeting. It appears, that through no fault of its own, the rescheduled County 5 meeting is now at the same time as the Lake Shore Hospital Authority Budget Hearing, the special district encompassing all of the County.

Election Results: County Races

County Attorney Candidate Foreman Ethics: Another Claim of Foreman Non-Disclosure - Sheriff Hunter Silent

Posted August 23, 2014  09:15 pm

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – From at least November of 2010, through March of 2012 when Third Circuit (Lake City) Court Judge, Paul S. Bryan, filed for bankruptcy, Joel Foreman was representing Judge Bryan as his estate planning attorney. The Codes of Judicial Conduct and Professional Responsibility require the recusal of a Judge who is being represented by an attorney, who is appearing in front of him, and the attorney to advise the opposing party that he is the judge's attorney. After reading the Observer article, County Attorney Candidate Joel Foreman: Ethics Questions Surface, Thomas "Will" Miller stepped forward with the same complaint: Attorney Joel Foreman did not disclose.

Columbia County Sheriff: Don't expect to see Ferguson type military equipment in Lake City

Posted August 22, 2014  10:30 am

County Attorney Candidate Joel Foreman
Ethics Questions Surface

Posted August 17, 2014  02:15 am | (1 comment)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County Florida is the only Florida County where the County Attorney, the attorney that represents the County Commission in civil matters, is elected by the people. Joel Foreman is running for the position. The Codes of Judicial Conduct and Professional Responsibility require the recusal of a Judge who is being represented by an attorney, who is appearing in front of him, and the attorney to advise the opposing party that he is the judge's attorney.

Columbia County's Good Ole' Boy Audit Club – 30 Years and Counting

Posted August 10, 2014  09:58 am

DOH & WellFlorida Partner With Survey To Improve Health Outcomes In Columbia County

Commissioner Bucky Nash Brokers $659,780 Backroom Deal With Sheriff Hunter
Road Deputies To Get Raises – Other County Employees?

Posted July 18, 2014  09:58 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Just when you think Columbia County's infamous County 5 can't outdo itself, it does. Last night, in an admitted backroom deal brokered by County Commissioner Bucky Nash and the County's external auditor and financial advisor, Richard Powell, The 5 gave the Sheriff $659,780 in current and future commitments for salary adjustments, while at the same time leaving its other County employees in the dark about their financial future.

Resident Complains About Garbage In the Streets:
The County 5 Have Ignored the Problem For Years

Posted June 24, 2014  05:15 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night's meeting of the County 5 had garbage on the front burner. Long time resident Robert Long had emailed the County advising that residents in his neighborhood put out old and broken furniture, dryers, box springs and rubbish on the wrong days for pick up. He wrote, "It negatively affects home values and neighborhood appearance. It seems to be an increasing trend." The instances of garbage and trash being put out to the curb on the wrong day in Columbia County are nothing new.

Columbia County Jail – $35,000,000: Replace or Renovate, The Conversation Continued

Posted June 14, 2014  10:55 pm | Part II | Part I

Columbia County Jail – $35,000,000: Replace or Renovate, The Conversation Begins

Posted June 13, 2014  03:40 pm | Part I

County 5's Docket Tonight: New Jail - Residents Could Be on the Hook for $30 to $35,000,000

Posted June 12, 2014  09:40 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Tonight at 6 o'clock, the Public Safety Coordinating Council (PSCC), an advisory board to the County 5, meets for the first time since 2006 at the School Board Admin. Bldg. For decades, the County has claimed it needed a new jail. The purpose of the PSCC is to assess the population status of the County Jail. The eternal foot dragging of Florida's quintessential Good Ole' Boy County Commission, and its wheeling and dealing with County funds, may once again put the County's taxpayers and residents on the hook. This time for $30 - $35,000,000.

Harvey Campbell Dreamed of a Field of Dreams, A Miracle Field Where all Children Can Play
"I am making it a priority," County Manager Dale Williams

Posted June 06, 2014  07:55 am

Another Economic Development Master Plan For Columbia County: Paid For By The Taxpayers

Posted June 04, 2014  06:00 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last Thursday, May 29, 2014, the Columbia County Economic Development Department met for an emergency economic development work shop to gather information in order to be in compliance with the terms of a $40,000 economic development grant from the state. Columbia County is the pilot community for what Enterprise Florida called the "Next Level" Community Competitiveness Grant. Dragging its feet, the County now has its back up against the wall. The County's taxpayers had to pony up $17,250 to pay a consultant to finish the grant. This story really began in 2009 – in secret.


Columbia County 5 Facing a $50,000,000 Public Safety Crisis: Sheriff Mark Hunter Stands Up

Posted May 28, 2014  11:10 am | (4 comments)

Lake City Middle School Students Inducted Into Nat. Jr. Honor Society: Supt. and School Bd. MIA

Posted May 20, 2014  06:45 am

The A-7 Corsair's Columbia County Transformation: From Mold and Excrement to Glistening Paint?

Posted May 19, 2014  12:35 pm

Unanimous Vote To Dispose of a Piece Naval History, the A-7 Corsair Display Alongside of I-75

Posted May 16, 2014  11:25 am |(1 Comment)

Suwannee Valley TA: Dialysis Patients Riding On Saturday for Another Month

Nash keeps SVTA on track

Columbia County Economic Development:  First Appearance By New Chief, Glenn Hunter

"My family goes back six-seven generations"

Glenn Hunter, Economic Development Director by Default: It's the Pedigree, Not Degree That Counts

FL's Sunshine Law a problem for Mr. Hunter

FOILED – A Plan to Depose the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and Replace it With the SVTA

Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Administrator and Director of Operations Resign

Ted Yoho Town Hall Columbia County: The Congressman Impressed Supporters and Doubters

Posted April 22, 2014  07:35 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night Congressman Ted Yoho came to Columbia County. The audience was filled with supporters, fence straddles, doubters, and the curious who had never seen a real live United States Congressman. Congressman Yoho, a large animal veterinarian, had not spent his life at the public trough, worked his way through school and after becoming a veterinarian spent 28 years being one. He didn't like the direction America was taking and ran for congress. This November he is running for his second two year term.

4 Years After Opening Fort White Library in the Woods Gets Outside Lighting: What took so long?

Posted April 18, 2014  08:15 pm

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night after almost 4 years of inaction, The Columbia County 5, The 5, finally decided to pay to put lighting in the Fort White in the woods library parking lots. Dedicated in a private "invitation only" ceremony for The 5, some County staff, and County royalty in November 2010, the parking lots have remained unlit. The County claimed it couldn't afford the lights. During the intervening years, The 5 spent millions on anything they felt like, such as the $28k-$100k on the Boondoggle in the Boondocks debacle, or an outright donation of $80,000 to the Lake City Chamber of Commerce for a three year study to determine what you are thinking about before you buy a six pack of beer.

The County 5: Another New High or Low
Discovers Library in the Woods is in the Dark

Posted April 17, 2014  08:35 am | news/analysis

In Favor of 5¢ County Gas Tax Hike: Bubba Twelvepack Comments

County 5 Chairman Ronald Williams In Favor of 5¢ County Gas Tax Hike: 4 of The 5 Silent

Columbia County 5: Violate FL Law Then Approve 12th Hr. $500,000 Plus Real Estate Deal

The rule of law is what Florida's infamous good ole' boys say it is

The County 5 Tonight: Buried in the consent agenda tax incentives to an anonymous company

$18 mil Proposed Public Safety Communications Upgrade: Not Worth the Paper It's Written On

Suwannee Valley TA Under Microscope: OIG (Office of the Inspector General) Called In To Investigate

Suwannee Valley TA Moves Into 21st Century Commissioner Nash Says, "No Mas" to Secrecy
Suwannee County Com. Gamble seconds the motion

The 5 Barrel Ahead: Ignore Potential $5-$10 Mil Savings On $18,000,000 Communications System

Late Breaking: Chairman Williams wants to hear the Harris proposal

The 5: Putting County Workers at the Bottom of the Barrel

The 5: Money by relay.` Another quarter million headed to a School District that can't afford books.

The 5: Up To It's Old Tricks As Tonight's County Commission Docket Rolls Around

Floating On A Sea Of County Cash, The 5 Donate Another $200,000 to the School DistrictColumbia County 5

Emerald Lakes Special Assessment Ballot Fails
Tonight, Will The 5 Take Matters Its Own Hands?
Columbia County 5

Columbia County 5County 5 Sets 2014 Budget Priorities
Total Cost Could Be Over $100,000,000

Chairman Williams: You've got to think about raising taxes

Economic Development Advisory Board: Long time Commissioner Ronald Williams takes over the helm

He will bring $100,000s of suggestions before The 5 in Feb

Emergency Management Director Morgan Warns of Black Ice – Gives 5 P's of Cold Weather Safety
Columbia County Schools will be closed Tuesday
Gateway College will be open Tuesday

County 5, Big Business As Usual At 1st Meeting of the Year: Waste Pro may get $200,000 free pass

The County 5: The enhanced right to participate, "A little extreme for Columbia County," Com. Nash

•  Meeting Calendar