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Columbia County's $28 mil Event Center:  On life support, nobody wants to pull the plug
The Boondoggle in the Boondocks, the saga continues

County Manager Dale Williams
County Manager Dale Williams works to get his Board out of the mess it finds itself in.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night the County Commission was again presented with a dilemma: Pull the plug on the $28,000,000 Jody DuPree Boondoggle in the Boondocks or squander more tax payer dollars on lawyers and staff fees. An ill prepared County Commission needed County Manager Dale Williams to put his spin on what's been going on. While always literate and articulate, last night the County's legendary County Manager was put in a tight spot trying to weave his Board out of something they couldn't, or wouldn't do on their own.


County Manager Williams Addressed the County Commission:

Mr. Chairman, as you are aware the Events Center Planning Committee, when they outlined the process for how they envisioned this entire project proceeding -- they identified a few absolutes, things that they considered to be of such importance that if they did not materialize the project was stalled or stopped. One of those and the first of those dealt with a Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] with Columbia County Resources as operators of the Fairgrounds property.

The facts tell a different story: Events Center Planning Committee

On October 10, 2012 Events Center Planning Committee requested the following:

(1) Establish an Events Center Board of Directors; (2) Prepare a draft governance plan; (3) Select a designated engineer/architect for the project; (4) Develop a financing plan for the project; (5) Begin property negotiations with the various property owners that responded to the Request for Proposals (RFP); (6) Prepare to levy the additional 1% bed tax

There was no item singled out over any other in the Committee Request, nor was there any mention of any event "stalling or stopping the project."

While there clearly was no mention of the MOU in the Events Center Planning Committee request, it was mentioned in the Committee’s final report of the same date, October 10, 2012:

A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Columbia County and Columbia County Resources, Inc. is in the process of being finalized by attorneys representing both Columbia County and Columbia County Resources, Inc. Subject to the approval by the CCR Board of Directors and completion of the Events Center Project, the land of Columbia County Resources, Inc. would transfer to Columbia County. This land is then available for sale and/or development and provide both a direct and indirect financial impact. 

On November 15, 2012, phase two or step two of the project, as pointed out by County Manager Williams during that evening’s County Commission meeting showed that the Event Center Planning Committee was to do the following:

a) Select a site; b) Provide the final cost for the selected site; c) Finalize cost for site ingress/egress, utility extensions and buildings; d) Provide final financial details based on project costs (including grant Options); e) Finalize the "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) between Columbia County and Columbia County Resources, Inc. (MOU to include provision for appointment of CCR members to Events Center Board of Directors); f) To make recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners regarding consulting services necessary to complete the above tasks.

The first item did not deal with the MOU. It was the 5th item.

Commissioner DePratter, the only one to say "stop"

During the November 15, 2012 meeting, County Manager Williams explained that both the Events Center Planning Committee and the Economic Development Board recommended that the County move forward with phase 2 of the project. After an extended discussion, the County Commission approved phase 2 with the caveat that the County not expend any funds in phase 2 until the MOU was approved.

District 2 Commissioner Rusty DePratter was the only County Commissioner to vote against moving forward with the Events Center.

County Manager Williams continued his explanation, telling the Board that the County “could work well into the process and spend a considerable amount of money” with too many options for people to bail out. This is partially true, as the County voted not to expend money until the MOU was approved.

The MOU which had been floating around since October

The Memorandum Of Understanding had been floating around the County since October 2012.

In a letter from Guy Norris on November 15, 2012, Mr. Norris, the attorney for Columbia County Resources, the folks that run the Fairgrounds and the County Rodeo wrote the County’s attorney, Joel Foreman the following:

It has been more than a month since CCR has had any substantive communications concerning the proposed Memorandum of Understanding ("MoU") between the County and CCR. As you are aware, CCR requested substantial revisions to the proposed MoU. To date, the MoU remains in draft form, has not been approved by either party, and the County has offered no response to the proposed revisions.

CCR is concerned that it is premature for the Commission to discuss approval of expenditures for Phase 2, when the linchpin of Phase 1, the proposed MoU with CCR, remains unresolved.

Therefore, CCR respectfully requests that the lines of communication concerning the proposed MoU be opened and that any action by the Commission relating to the Events Center be postponed until such time as it is clear that CCR and the Commission have a mutual understanding of the status and the process going forward.

Earth Time in Columbia County

The MOU was executed by Columbia County Resources on November 26, 2012. Columbia County Resources attorney, Guy Norris, finally forwarded it to the County’s attorney on December 10th. Then, the County’s attorney, Joel Foreman, got around to sending it to the County’s Safety Manager, David Kraus, on December 21, 2012. It is not clear where it went after that, but it did show up on February 1st in the County Commission Agenda Packet for yesterday’s meeting.

The Observer had posted the MOU on line a month before in its article, Boondoggle in the Boondocks: Columbia County’s Events Center, “Where’s the thing gonna be?”

If Columbia County’s infamous County Commission would have read the agreement they would have read the following, which was also forwarded to the County by the County’s attorney, Joel Foreman, on December 21, 2012:

This Memorandum of Understanding is intended to be a non-binding document that expresses the parties' intention to move forward in an efficient and expeditious manner regarding the proposed development of an Event Center.

(Then later on)

Either party may withdraw from negotiation of the formal agreement between the parties at any time in the party’s sole discretion without liability until such time as the formal agreement has been properly approved by the parties and executed by the authorized representatives of the parties.

County Manager Williams told the Commission, “I think all of you have read it... That does not fulfill the recommendation of the Events Center Planning Committee.”

Who is the Events Center Committee Chairman?

District I Commissioner Ronald Williams announced that he was appointed by the Chairman (Stephen Bailey) to be the Events Center Committee Chairman. Today, Dale Williams told the Observer that is what Commissioner Williams told him.

After last night’s meeting your reporter asked Chairman Bailey, “When did you appoint Commissioner Williams Chairman of the Events Committee? Chairman Bailey responded, “I didn’t.”

Finally - Columbia County's Commissioners speak

Commissioner Williams:  I will not entertain spending any money whatsoever until there is a lan [iron] clad memorandum of understanding... The agreement was you all in or you're not all in. It’s just that simple. There is no way that this board would back out and there is no way that the other party could back out.

Commissioner Frisina did not understand the MOU.

The County Manager said, “The way the MOU is designed is the Board of County Commissioners is the controlling agent.” The MOU does not read that way.

Commissioner DePratter, “The agreement says, “’This memorandum of understanding is intended to be a non binding document,’” means they're not bound by to anything.”

County Manager Williams, “I think if you can’t make this an absolute, then you’ve pretty much hit the wall.”

Commissioner DePratter asked what changes would have to be made?

County Manager Williams said he would recommend them to attorney Foreman.

Commissioner Bucky Nash wanted to give Columbia County Resources 30 days to come up with an agreement that would be acceptable to the County. He immediately caved when Commissioner Williams asked for 60 days.

After a short discussion Commissioner Williams said an agreement couldn’t be reached in 60 days.

Commissioner Nash pointed out that the Fact Finding Committee operated for 18 months. “There is not a lot left to undo,” he said.

Commissioner Williams responded, “Yes, there is a lot left to undo.”

After a brief silence, Commissioner Williams spoke up, “Mr. Chairman if I have (phonetic - a time payment) of 60 days to bring this back to the Board, then I’ll resign from being Chair of that committee.”

The 60 days was agreed to by motion. The motion passed, but it is not clear how many votes were in favor or against as the Board was not polled.

Commissioner Williams did not resign as the Chair of the Committee, to which no one appointed him.


In 2011, Columbia County did an extensive search for an Economic Development Director. In fact they did three searches. One search they did on their own and after receiving numerous resumes the County rejected all of them. Then the County went on a search for a search firm. After finding the search firm, the search firm found Jesse Quillen.

In December 2011 the County Manager offered Mr. Quillen, who was working in Mobile, AL, $110,000 plus benefits to become the County’s Economic Development Director.

Throughout the saga of the Columbia County Events Center Boondoggle in the Boondocks extravaganza, no one has called on the County’s acknowledged  economic development expert for more than a scintilla, if that, of advice.

The Columbia County good ole boy legend lives. 

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Feb 10, 2013, Fed-Up from Columbia County wrote:

I have lived in Columbia County all of my life (47) and the area where the county wants to put the event center has to be one of the worst places in our county. I have lived I this area for over 20 years and the likely hood of this area being developed and able to handle the event center is likely to send our county to a place we may not recover from in my life time.

I believe that we should focus our time on jobs for our citizens who are struggling. The jobs that would come from building and developing the event center would mostly come from out of town. I'm sure only a selected few "good ole boys" will benefit from any local jobs that would be working on the project.

I think the people of our county should sit back and take a close look at who is running our county and see who would profit the most from these kind of projects. There are several elected officials who stand to profit from any deals that will happen if the events center deal goes through. If we have so much money available then maybe we should look at the people who serve our citizens such as Teachers, Law Enforcement and Fire Fighters who are some of the most under paid in the state.

I know that a lot of county money has been spread around to the top county selected few.


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