Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Boondoggle in the Boondocks: Columbia County's Events Center, "Where's the thing gonna be?"

The Events Center Committee played to a full house at the Hospital Authority last night.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The saga of the $28,000,000 Boondoggle  in the Boondocks, which began its life in July of 2011 as the Columbia County Assembly/Events Building, continued yesterday evening at 6 PM to a full house at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority building.

Former County Commissioner Jodi DuPree's handpicked Events Center committee was almost all present as Commissioner Ronald Williams gaveled the meeting to order. Committee member Stephen Douglas arrived later on. Also in attendance was former County Commissioner DuPree, who resurrected the Events Center concept after it was turned down by the Tourist Development Council.

The meeting was immediately turned over to County Safety Manager and Events Center coordinator, David Kraus, who asked the committee members to introduce themselves. There were no members from the general public on the committee and no volunteers had ever been asked for.

Commissioner Ronald Williams introduced himself, "I am the representative taking Commissioner DuPree's place on the Board."

Commissioner Williams (right) goes over the rules as Charlie Crawford (hat) and Don Kennedy look on.

Earlier that day, the Board's Senior Administrative Assistant, Penny Stanley, advised the Observer that Board Chairman Bailey had not made an appointment to fill the former commissioner's position. After the meeting, Chairman Bailey confirmed that he had not made any appointment to fill Mr. DuPree's seat.

Events Center Advisory Committee Attorney, Joel Foreman, then took over the meeting and for the next ten minutes explained the purpose of the committee was to advise the County Commission; follow the Sunshine Law; and keep minutes.

As Mr. Foreman neared the end of his presentation of the by-laws, Commissioner Williams asked him to begin again and read them page by page to the committee.

Mr. Foreman's reading paused at the part of his rules which described fact finding committees.

Fact finding meetings in Columbia County are meetings, which are secret unannounced meetings by a board, to do secret business out of the public eye. No record or minutes must be kept. Only the first meeting must be announced publically. – Ed

Event Center Committee Attorney Joel Foreman makes a point about fact finding.

Mr. Foreman is the only attorney in Columbia County who instituted fact finding committees. It was based on his interpretation that the Events Center Committee met in secret for months.

Mr. Foreman was the personal attorney for the former Chairman of the Fact Finding Committee, Commissioner Jody DuPree. Commissioner DuPree handpicked the committee members, which were rubber stamped by the County Commission.

"The law is quite clear. An ad hoc advisory board, even if its power is limited to making recommendations to a public agency and even if it possesses no authority to bind the agency in any way, is subject to the Sunshine Law. The committee here, made a ruling affecting the decision-making process and it was of significance. As a result, it was improper for the committee to reach its recommendation in private since that constituted a violation of the Sunshine Law." Spillis Candela & Partners, Inc. v. Centrust Savings Bank, 535 So.2d 694 (Fla. 3d DCA 1988)

The Memorandum of Understanding

Mr. Foreman presented the Memorandum of Understanding to the Board. The memorandum of understanding is an agreement between the County Commission and the group that has run the Fair Grounds since the 60's, Columbia County Resources.

This agreement was hashed out between the Columbia County Resources attorney, Guy Norris, and Mr. Foreman.

According to the MOU, Columbia County Resources has total veto control of any management plan presented by the County that it doesn't like. (see section 2b)

According to the MOU, the County incurs "any and all expenses associated with the project." (see section 2g)

That would appear to include Mr. Norris's legal fees.

Mr. Foreman Opined, "Where's the thing gonna be?"

"There is not a carte blanche for this board... This is going to be a long and involved process... The litany of questions that this board is going to struggle with over the course of the next two years, or however long it might be... The key question is where's the thing gonna be?"

Mr. Foreman continued, "... The fact finding committee returned specific parameters. You need a couple of hundred acres. You need interstate frontage. You need arterial road. You need utilities. All those parameters."

Commissioner Williams weighed in

"There is perception that this has been a closed door secret process and in a way it has been... From the start I do not think anyone took for granted that the fact finding committee, the information that they assimilated was locked in gold."

Commissioner Williams continued, "Considering everything the fact finding committee submitted at the first meeting, I don't know if I'm for or against a multipurpose building – Events Center... I don't know where it should go. Should it go to Lulu – should it go to Deep Creek – should it go to Ellisville – should it go anywhere in this county?"

"Do we look at the information as a whole, what the original committee presented to us? Do we need a building that size?... Do we do it in phases?... We need to explore where the funds coming from... Are there other organizations that can help fund this?..."

"At this point now the public think it was a closed behind thing, went on behind closed doors. They had no input. We just sprung it on em. But now we gonna let them be part of the discussion."

"This is not gonna be a quick fix. The attorney say maybe two years and who knows, it might be two years – it might be a year – it might be two and a half years."

The Observer Asked

Former Commissioner Jody DuPree observed the proceedings for a while. (orange shirt)

The Observer asked if the process can be stopped at any time by the committee.

Commissioner Williams, "There is always that possibility."

Citizen Lawrence Bowen told the Board, "When I hear that the next step that the committee wants to take from the attorney is to chose a location, it would appear to me that it's a foregone conclusion -- that this is a good idea – that the idea floats."

Commissioner Williams answered, "Well, not necessarily."

So far the County has spent in the neighborhood of $50,000 on the Boondoggle.


The Boondoggle in the Boondocks continues, now as an ever changing target.

If approved by the County Commission, the MOU cedes power to Columbia County Resources and gives them the ability to put the kibosh on the project at anytime.

The second series of fact finding meetings were a sham by a handpicked committee by a Commissioner that brought a reign of terror on Columbia County.

On February 1st, when the MOU is supposed to come before the County Commission, it can be turned away.

Alternatively, the County Chairman, by the power vested in him by the County Charter, could not agree to put the MOU on the agenda – No MOU – No Events Center, unless of course Mr. DuPree or anyone else can come up with a group of investors with $28,000,000 and build it.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

Editors note: Stephen Douglas is a member of the Governor appointed Lake Shore Hospital Authority and the County Commission appointed Economic Development Advisory and Events Center Committees.

On January 14, 2013, Stephen Douglas of Columbia County wrote:

You call it The saga of the $28,000,000 Boondoggle in the Boondocks for the rest of us residents of Columbia County; we respectfully call it vetting a project called the Events Center.

Just to re-emphasize what “Chum” O’Neil rightfully stated in the meeting that “we should all be here to make good decisions for our county as a whole and if you are making decisions for individual reasons, you don’t need to be here”.  Amen brother!

I am one of the original Fact Finding Committee Members that was asked via the Tourist Development Council and Board of County Commissioners to go out and review and make recommendations on improving the Southside Sports Complex and to also vet the concept of an Events Center in Columbia County.  It is inaccurate to say that there are no members from the general public on this committee.  Stephen Douglas would be a member of the general public.

It is also somewhat of a stretch to imply that the Tourist Development Council and its members are not interested in the idea / vision of an Events Center in Columbia County.  I for one, welcome Nick Patel (TDC representative) on this committee to assist in doing a thorough due diligence on a project of this magnitude.

This committee is now moving forward to gathering additional information on possible sites / locations for an Events Center.  This is the next logical step that will help in determining costs.

Whether this idea/project  ends up coming to fruition or being put in “file 13”, I firmly believe going thru this endeavor will make our community stronger and better capable of taking advantage of future opportunities no matter what our decision might be on a County Events Center.

Sincerely,  Stephen  Douglas


On January 15, 2012, citizen 49a of Lake City wrote:

Mr. Douglas,

You wrote: You call it The saga of the $28,000,000 Boondoggle in the Boondocks "for the rest of us residents of Columbia County; we respectfully call it vetting a project called the Events Center.

The "rest of us residents of Columbia County"? You're joking, right?  90% of the residents of Columbia County don't know a thing about this project you are "respectfully vetting".

I've gone to the trouble to explain it to a few people. Nobody I've told expresses anything resembling a "respectful" attitude towards the continuing waste of money to investigate a waste of money that's already been shot down once, and which even now is an acknowledged a money loser by those who've studied most recently. The term most people use to describe what's going on is not "vetting".  The publishable version of the way people I talk to describe it is as yet one more good old fashioned screwing of the taxpayers.

But maybe my sample is biased. Let's find out. Before this "respectful vetting" goes any further, and we shower any more taxpayer's funds on this project/boondoggle, let's put it up to a vote and find out just what the "rest of us" really think. After all, you and the other cheerleaders for this cockamamie waste of taxpayer funds keep saying you you don't want to do anything without having plenty of information. What's the rush? Have a referendum. A special referendum if you like, since we're throwing the people's money around.

Or if you don't like that idea how about publicly announcing - well in advance, please -  that a vote will be taken at the next county commission meeting of all those in attendance.

You won't do either one of those things Mr. Douglas, because you know what the outcome will be.

So can the fake outrage and indignation at anyone questioning what's going on here.  Not everyone in this county fell off the tater truck yesterday, and who knows what may come out before all is said and done on this little venture. 


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