Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Columbia County News

Columbia County/Lake City Combined 911 Communications Center: Going the way of the Titanic?

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – At its beginnings in 2008, the main purpose of the creation of the Columbia County Combined 911 Communications Center was to take the dispatch center away from then Sheriff Bill Gootee and discredit him enough to cost him the election against challenger and Columbia County good ole' boy, Mark Hunter. It worked. Bill Gootee was defeated and it looks like, unless there is some intervention by the folks elected to represent the people of Columbia County/Lake City, Sheriff Mark Hunter is going to be getting the 911 dispatch center back and Lake City is going to go it alone because the County can't get its act together.

Under the County's control, the 911 Combined Communications Center (911-CCC) has been a mess. Worker discontent, outages, Rube Goldberg repairs, static making signals unreliable and other issues have been a problem for some time.

On October 7, 2010, your reporter was illegally removed from a County Commission meeting by Sheriff's Deputy John Hatcher after legendary Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams ran cover for Sheriff Hunter to keep him from answering how the emergency backup 911-CCC was suddenly moved from its planned location in the Lake City Public Safety Building to a utility trailer, which was to be housed somewhere on the County Jail property. You can read about that here.

Grant money was used to buy computer and other equipment and software that were scheduled to go into the City Public Safety Building. That equipment ended up in what was to be Sheriff Mark Hunter's ill-fated Utility Trailer Emergency Communications Backup Center.

On January 19, 2011 Sheriff Mark Hunter was nominated and elected to be the man in charge of the 911-CCC Executive Committee. Articles concerning this meeting are here and here.

After the election of Sheriff Hunter, there was never another meeting of the 911-CCC Executive Committee, which was supposed to be a partnership between the City and the County.

In June of 2012, when 911 went down, the folks at the 911-CCC sent out a search party to find the emergency backup center, which they didn't find. It didn't make a difference if they had, because it came to light that it would take approximately 2 hours to crank it up. The County and the Sheriff were not prepared.

At that time, County Safety Manager David Kraus explained that the emergency backup center wasn't really for emergencies; it was for disasters, so it didn't have to start right up.

When Tropical Storm Debbie hit just a week later, the County remained unprepared and it would have needed Lake City to save the day had disaster struck.

Did City Manager Johnson secretly poll the Council?

In a memo dated March 19, 2013, City Manager Wendell Johnson wrote to Columbia County Safety Manager David Kraus. In that memo Mr. Johnson stated the following:  The Mayor and Council have agreed that it is in the City's best interest for the City Staff to move forward with independent dispatching services by the Lake City Dispatch Center for all our needs, to include Fire Dispatch. Please contact me at your convenience to discuss the transition in detail.

The last public record showing any discussion by the City Council was the City minutes of October 3, 2011.

The available 2013 minutes of the City show zero discussion of any problems with the 911-CCC. Discussions with various City officials show no one remembers any City Council discussions of this important item of public safety.

The County Commission has not mentioned any issues with the 911-CCC at any regularly scheduled County Commission meeting this year.


Florida is bracing for another active hurricane season, which officially began on June 1st. It is expected that there will be a higher-than-average number of named storms.

On Thursday evening the 911-CCC is on the County agenda.

The City Council is meeting tonight. City Manager Johnson has left any word of the fate of the Combined 911 Communications Center this off the evening's City agenda.

Comments (to add a comment go here)

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.