Stew Lilker’s

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Integrity Challenged: Was FGC College President Larry Barrett Forced to Drink the Kool Aid? Part II

COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – In Part II, the Chamber of Commerce and others weigh in on the Florida Gateway College candidate forum.

Chamber's Govt. Relations Committee

On July 24, 2018, the Chamber's Mike Williams, the chair of the Chamber Government Relations Committee called your reporter.

After Mr. Williams introduced himself, your reporter said, "I'm not sure what is going on between Mike McKee and the Chamber and his job at the College. As an award winning journalist, I thought that I should be a member of the questioning panel. He (McKee) told me he has to get that approved by his board."

Mr. Williams assured your reporter, "That is not the case, that it has to be approved by the college. It is a chamber function, a chamber event."

Your reporter told Mr. Williams that the event was being promoted as a co-sponsored partnership between FGC and the Chamber.

According to Mr. Williams, co-sponsored means the only function of the College is to make the facility available. "They're charging us for it," he said.

A Coincidence?

Three days after this conversation the Chamber advertised that "Florida Gateway College, the Lake City Reporter and the Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce will be telecasting forums featuring qualified candidates" in the primary.

This latest caveat appears to be in response to the exclusion of any mention in the Lake City Reporter of the qualified NPA and Democratic candidates for the State Representatives in District 10. It is also a tool to keep these candidates out of the public's eye.

For more about the Star Chamber see here and here.

Last week, NPA candidate Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson said that Republican candidate Marc Vann told her that he didn't think that keeping her from events "was fair."

The Government Relations Committee: A Star Chamber

Run like a Star Chamber, other than Chairman Mike Williams, the membership of the Government Relations Committee is top secret. When asked, Mr. Williams would not reveal who was on the committee.

The Contract For the College TV Facilities

This is another mess. A college employee with two different names filled out the contract for the Chamber. The contract requires that the "requestor" complete the first three pages of the Facilities Use Request and return it to the College.

The final section on page 3 of the contract states the following: "I have read this contract in its entirety and have a full understanding of and agree to the stipulations therein." On April 12, 2018, the college employee, Pearce/Smith or Smith/Pearce, signed the contract. She is not a member of the Chamber.

Nowhere in the request is the Lake City Reporter mentioned.

On June 12 another requestor signed the contract. College President Barrett didn't recognize the signature of the "requestor." He ran it down and advised that the signature was the College's Mike McKee.

Jim Tatum: Aid to Candidate Malowitz-Jipson

Last week your reporter spoke with Jim Tatum, one of the chief aids to Ms. Malwitz-Jipson. He said he was furious that the LCR did not include Candidate Malwitz-Jipson in the newspaper articles about the candidates or the event. He said he called Robert Bridges and never received a return call.

Mr. Tatum also spoke with the College and inquired why Ms. Malwitz-Jipson was not included in the Forum. He said he thought he spoke with a student and was advised that she would call back. A short while later, Mr. Tatum's call was returned. According to him, he was advised that the event was only for primary candidates and the answer came from "some guy named Mike."

McKee Clams Up

Your reporter has reached out to Mr. McKee, technically the College's Public Information Officer. He has ignored emails and text messages requesting that FGC Board President Suzanne Norris give this reporter a call. It is unknown if he has given Ms. Norris the messages. She did not respond.

Florida Ethics Chairman Guy Norris

On August 2, your reporter reached out to newly elected Florida Ethic's Commission Chairman Guy Norris asking him to ask his wife Suzanne Norris (FGC Board Chair) to give him a call about an urgent matter at FGC. Ms. Norris did not respond. Neither did Guy Norris a former Lake City Chamber and County Republican leader.

The Lake City Reporter

On August 3 the Lake City Reporter ran an article with statements by Robert Bridges for the newspaper and Mike McKee for the College and the Chamber. Mr. McKee refused to provide his the statements, ignoring the request.

The LCR article claimed that the "2018 Florida Gateway College political forum" was "A partnership between the Lake City Reporter, FGC and the Lake City-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce."

The article appeared to be written to blunt College President Barrett.

FGC President Barrett

Your reporter spoke with President Barrett early Friday evening August 3.

President Barrett was not talkative, even reticent. Your reporter pointed out that the Lake City Reporter, in an article run in the August 3 edition, claimed the event was a partnership and clearly an equal partnership.

Your reporter also pointed out that nowhere in the article was there any mention of the word primary.

Finally, your reporter mentioned Jim Tatum's reported conversation with the College, claiming the Forum was only for primary candidates.

That elicited a response, "I didn't know that."

President Barrett said he would email a written response that he had prepared earlier about the event. He did.


The Lake City Reporter, Columbia County's home grown mainstream media version of Pravda, and the Chamber of Commerce have been in a love embrace for years.

"The way we've always done it" has been the mantra of Columbia County for generations.

Minus any policy or law to the contrary, President Barrett is responsible for the running of the College.

It is hard to believe that President Barrett would exclude qualified political candidates from a College function.

College President Larry Barrett, an outsider with new and refreshing ideas, appears to have been forced to drink the Kool Aid and been sucked into the Columbia County's infamous good ole' boy whirlpool.

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