Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia Cnty Sports Development on the Move Part I: "Hire away somebody else's employee"

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last week's meeting of Columbia County's Tourist Development Council (TDC) had County Manager Ben Scott making a special appearance at a special meeting to hawk and get approval for a land deal on a secret piece of property of between 40 and 60 acres. The County Manager wants what appears to be Columbia Bank to hold the property until the County "can come up with a plan." It was also announced that the County is looking to get its new Sports Marketing Director by hiring "someone away from another sports organization."


On June 7, 2017, the TDC met for a special meeting. According to County Manager Ben Scott, the special meeting was called by Commissioner Williams on May 18. The County Calendar shows the meeting as being added/updated on June 2, two weeks later. While the meeting is a special meeting, the County did not announce that fact.

This is the meeting announcement from the County website: scheduled on May 18, but not added/updated until June 2. To be in compliance with the County Charter and the Administrative code, the highlighted "Meeting - Meeting" should read "Special Meeting."

The County Charter restricts the agendas of the County 5 and its subservient boards. The TDC, on which two county commissioners sit, is a subservient board. The Charter is crystal clear:

"Action by the Board of County Commissioners at a special meeting shall be limited to the purpose for which the special meeting was called."

According to TDC Director Paula Vann, both she and Commissioner  Williams provided the information for the agenda items.

The agenda had two items: Sports Marketing Director Job Description; Sports Marketing Plan – Next Steps. Neither described any action or votes by the TDC.

Yesterday afternoon, June 13, TDC Director Vann, answered the following question by email: "Did you know that the issue regarding the purchase or proposed purchase of property was going to be discussed at the meeting?"

Ms. Vann's answer: "The meeting's purpose was to begin a dialogue between the county and TDC to discuss action on the strategic plan recommendations outlined in the written plan and during the presentation to the TDC and BOCC."

"Begin a dialogue and discuss" is not vote. According to the County Charter, if the TDC was going to vote after its discussion, the agenda needed to say that.

Item Number One: Sports Marketing Director

Cnty 5 Spends $3 Mil Plus on Sports & Recreation, Then Decides to Have a Plan

On December 16, 2016, TDC Director Vann asked the County to approve a Sports Tourism Marketing Strategic Plan contract with Huddle Up Group for $29,000.

Even though Columbia County has tens of millions in reserves, it received a grant from Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity for the $29,000.

On March 26, 2017, Huddle Up Group submitted its Final Report – the Strategic Plan to the County 5.

The plan recommended filling the sports manager/director [sports marketing] director. The report stated that the "position has been vacant for some time. In order to effectively compete in the sports market, a dedicated and experienced sports tourism professional needs to be working on behalf of Columbia County. The Consultant Team believes this position should be filled as soon as possible."

Kelly Lowrey. See
Mob-Like Settlement...

The former sports marketing director, Kelly Lowrey, was forced out in October 2016.

By the time the County finally gets around to filling the position, it may have remained vacant for a year.

Commissioner Williams Introduced the First Item: Sports Marketing Director

Commissioner Williams: "We'll move on into the first item on the agenda. We have two items for discussion."

Everyone received the Sports Marketing Director job description at the last minute. Ms. Vann was concerned that the TDC board members did have enough time to review it. She told the board, "We can discuss it at another meeting."

Com. Williams wanted to know if the County reviewed it. It did. He showed no concern for the TDC.

The job description did not have a salary.

Commissioner DePratter wanted to know the salary.

Neither the County Manager, nor the TDC Director could provide it.

A call to the County HR department would have answered the question. No one called.

Hotel owner and TDC member Nick Patel was not concerned and volunteered that the "County knows best."

Then, in clear violation of the County Charter, i.e., discussion is not action, Com. Williams asked for a motion [a vote] to approve the job description, with the unknown salary.

It was unanimous.

The Huddle Up Group recommended $60,000 - $ 75,000.

The County Hiring Plan
"Get" someone else's employee

County Manager Scott explained the hiring plan, "Me and Paula talked about this. We want someone that has -- what we really want to do is we want to get someone away from another sports organization."

Mr. Scott continued, "Maybe not a director. Maybe he's an assistant director. Someone that has some experience that can come in here and help us... How we got those tournaments in place (those that use multipurpose fields) that's what we want this person to come in and help us do, but we know we have to have the infrastructure to get him in. So the first thing is the piece of property. The one we've looked at is between 40 and 60 acres.

Part II: Inventing a Sports Commission – Ignoring the Plan

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