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County IT Policy Had Gov's $10.2mil Waste Water Treatment Plant Grant Stuck in Cyberspace

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On the County 5 docket tonight, January 3, 2019, at its first meeting of the year, is approval of the Governor Scott approved DEO $10.2mil Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) Grant for the east side of the County. The County's Neanderthal IT policy kept the County Economic Development Department from receiving the grant contract for over two months.

IT Director Todd Manning: an interesting history

Columbia County's IT Director Todd Manning has been directing the County's IT Department for about 17 years.

In 2010, Mr. Manning talked the County into providing a T-1 line to his house so that he could monitor the county network.   See: Technologically challenged county weighs IT request for public funds for home use

In January 2012, Mr. Manning resigned from the County to take a job which was offered to him by then Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson. At the 12th hour, Mr. Manning changed his mind and his resignation letter was disregarded by then County Manager Dale Williams. See: Columbia County IT Director Resigns: County beginning search for new IT guru

There was also a time around 2012 when Mr. Manning was allowed to negotiate a separate agreement to do the County's IDA IT work. The IDA was a division of the County.

Throughout the years and through today, Mr. Manning while being known as the County IT Director or department head, has been being paid as an hourly employee so that he can be paid overtime. It is not clear if any other department heads in the county have that kind of deal.

An IT Policy Without an Alternative

Throughout the years the Observer has been hearing complaints about IT Director Manning. One recent complaint is that the County does not allow the use of drop boxes.  Mr. Manning is not alone in this. However, he has not come up with an alternative solution.

It is understood that Mr. Manning has put a maximum of 30meg on files that can be delivered into the County's email system. As of the end of 2018, he has not developed an alternative system; not all County employees are aware of this policy; there is no notice on the County website advising of this 30meg limit; email's between County departments and outside agencies do not indicate that this policy exists.

$10.2mil Grant Contract Stuck in Cyberspace: Nobody Knew

According to email communications between the County and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), in mid September 2018 the County and DEO were still putting the final touches on the Waste Water Treatment Plant Florida Job Growth Grant Fund grant application. DEO had drafted a scope of work for the proposed project which was approved by the County shortly after it was drafted.

Updated Proposal: $80mil in outside investment; 1,325 jobs created

On September 18, in order to get the grant application moving through DEO, the County updated its proposal to include a start date of October 19, 2019; updated the dollar amount of money that would have be invested as a result of the project to $80,000,000; and updated job creation as a result of the project to 1325 jobs.

By the end of the day, DEO advised that they would be putting "the entire agreement together and start routing it through our internal process."

On October 4, Assistant County Manager and grant writer David Kraus contacted DEO for an update.

On October 8, Beth Frost of DEO advised Mr. Kraus of the following: "I was out last week...  I will follow up on this – I submitted the agreement before I left for internal routing and review, so it should be near ready. I will let you know as soon as I ascertain the status."

Time Gap – 8 Weeks – Email Caught in Cyberspace

Eight weeks passed before the County, looking for the grant contract, followed up with DEO. Columbia County's Economic Development Administrative Assistant Jennifer Goff called and left a message asking for an "ETA" of the finalized contract.

Then, on December 17, DEO's Beth Frost emailed Ms. Goff.

Subject: RE: Florida Job Growth Grant Fund Infrastructure Proposal

"I responded last week to your earlier message.  The agreement was sent to you on November 11, and I attached a copy to last week’s email as well.  Apparently it did not make it through.  The document file is 29MB – is this too large a file for your email server?  I never received any type of failure notice, so was not aware that you had not received the document.  I will check with our IT staff to see if the file size is a problem – could you please check from your end? The last time this happened I had to send the documents to the Grantee’s personal email address in order for them to receive it."

Econ Dev Hunter Did It the Old Fashioned Way:
He picked up a hard copy of contract himself.

Econ Dev Dir Hunter may be explaining the project tonight.

Fortunately for Columbia County, Econ Dev Dir Glenn Hunter was in Tallahassee and picked up a copy of the $10.2mil contract.

It is on tonight's agenda. The County 5 may explain where they expect the $80mil in new investment and 1,325 new jobs to come from as a result of the new plant. If they don't meet the guarantees, they may have to pay back a prorated share or all the money, depending on the politics in Tallahassee at the time.

One of the main requirements of the grant is an approved interlocal between Lake City and the County. The 12th hour delay in receiving the DEO contract has delayed the interlocal approval, which is still under review by the parties.


The December 20, 2018, the Christmas Holiday Eve meeting of the County 5 lasted just shy of four-and-a-half hours. The size of the audio file posted to the County website was 95.1meg.

With the IT policy and no alternative in place, IT Director Todd Manning would not be able to email himself the audio of the County meeting.

Columbia County Florida: the legend continues.

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