Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Sen Bradley & Rep Brannan Came to Columbia Cnty Everyday Citizens Voiced Their Concerns

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Monday, January 14, Senator Rob Bradley, one of the most powerful people in Tallahassee (chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee), and considered by many to be one of Tallahassee's sharpest elected officials, and newly elected Representative Chuck Brannan, listened to various government representatives asking for money. However, along with the bevy of local officials, were everyday citizens who came to voice their concerns from climate change to education and things in between.

The meeting kicked off with Senator Bradley making sure everyone could be heard. Hearing public officials has been a chronic problem throughout Columbia County for decades and no governmental agency has been immune. Lately things have gotten better, but the situation remains problematic with various agencies.

Mike McKee, the FGC   man responsible for the meeting space. (file photo)

While Florida Gateway College has spent buckets of public funds on up-to-date TV cameras and public address systems, the legislative delegation meeting was not recorded; not put on YouTube; and the microphones were not turned on for the meeting.

The lack of a working PA system was the first thing Senator Bradley noticed.

Senator Bradley introduced himself and Representative Brannon did the same. Their committee assignments can be found here (Senator Bradley) and here (Representative Brannan).

Senator Bradley got right down to business and invited Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter to the microphone. (No one from the college flipped the switch to turn on the mics).

Sheriff Hunter:  Health & Social Issues Affecting All Floridians

Sheriff Hunter's presentation was sharp and to the point.

The Sheriff explained he had three items: school safety, juvenile delinquency-civil citations, and the opioid crisis.

Sheriff Mark Hunter discusses the opioid crisis.

Sheriff Hunter told the delegation [abridged]: "I know there is a big push about the civil citation statewide. I don't have any problem with the civil citation. The one thing that I would ask... do not take away officer discretion in the field by mandating they 'shall' [must] write' a civil citation... We have the ability to call parents and work with the children to try and keep them on the straight and narrow."

Sheriff Hunter then commented on the nationwide opioid crisis: "We have a lot of different folks that are meeting about that and this is going to be one that is going to be with us for a while... We've got some ideas on the addiction side and treatment. We've got to have some help on the law enforcement side because we just can't keep filling these jails up with people that have addiction problems. If we can get to them on the addiction side, I think that can help slow down some of the criminal side."

Senator Bradley thanked Sheriff Hunter for his comments.

Appearing next were Superintendent of Schools Lex Carswell; Lake City Mayor Steve Witt and City Manager Joe Helfenberger; FGC President Dr. Larry Barrett; Americans for Prosperity's Demetrious Minor, and Meridian Behavioral Healthcare's Don Savoie.

Regular Citizens: unpaid and concerned 

Lucinda Merritt of the Ichetucknee Alliance spoke about water and the springs [abridged]: "I'm secretary of the board of the Ichetucknee Alliance. I'm speaking today about our water conditions... In Columbia County the largest use of water is for people. That is people on city water and private wells. Most of the pollution comes from agriculture. We think we are all responsible for what's going on with our water. I'm not here to point fingers at anybody, but to say that we need to work together for solutions... We think that instead of relying on costly projects to solve our problems, the primary focus should be on water conservation and stopping pollution at the source. The state of Florida should fund a targeted effort to put our best scientific, engineering, and creative minds to work on solutions... We are asking you to hold public hearings in the upcoming session of the legislature on the problems that plague our springs."

Sue Sommer

The next citizen who came to the microphone was Sue Sommer, who addressed the problems of children who need extra services.

Sue Sommer:  "My name is Sue Sommer and I'm speaking on behalf of the Florida Citizen's Alliance, a coalition of more than 90 grassroots organizations advocating for education reform by focusing on competition, innovation and parental choice."

After the meeting Ms. Sommer clarified her association with the Florida Citizens Alliance, "I tag along with Florida Citizens Alliance advocating for educational initiatives that we mutually support, but I speak independently on issues that are personally relevant to me. My major issues this legislative session are getting school districts and college's to comply with the existing laws and the expansion of the Gardiner scholarship for kids with ADHD."

For years, Ms. Sommer has been engaged in the struggle that parents with children with learning disabilities and other challenges face throughout their children's school careers. With only so much money to go around, no matter what the state, these parents more often than not find themselves in an uphill battle to obtain services for their children.

Ms. Sommer shared her concerns with Rep. Brannan and Sen. Bradley and followed up by preparing a package of information which she sent to Senator Bradley after the meeting.

Barbara Lemley

Barbara Lemley came to the microphone and addressed the delegation regarding her concerns of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority. Ms. Lemley, a long time critic of the waste and abuse, and the abusive former manager of the Authority, gave a brief history of the LSHA and suggested that the legislature should abolish it. Ms. Lemley explained that taxpayers of Columbia County should not have taxes levied upon them by an unelected governor appointed board."

Sen. Bradley responded, "If you're asking me on the senate side to support a local bill that abolishes an agency in a county, my first question is, 'What do the local elected officials, the board of county commissioners, think about the matter?'"

Water icon & business woman Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson


Ms. Malwitz-Jipson addressed the delegation, "I'm here representing myself. I'm here to request enforceable protective basin management action plans."

Ms. Malwitz-Jipson also requested stricter controls to protect against wastewater spill into Florida's waters. She also asked Representative Brannan and Senator Bradley to co-sponsor bills against fracking in Florida. She also asked for support in stopping phosphate mining in Bradford and Union counties.

Senator Bradley responded, "Our springs, our rivers: there are many of us who are very passionate about these things. I appreciate your comments."

Jim Tatum, Ph.D.: Local River Historian

Jim Tatum the historian for Our Santa Fe River addressed the delegation, "Senator Bradley, we appreciate your support for the ban fracking bills last session and we urge your support this year. We appreciate what you do."

Jim Tatum, Ph.D.

Mr. Tatum asked Mr. Brannan to support the house version of the "ban fracking bill."

Mr. Tatum brought up the topic of the Valdosta sewage spills, which wind their way into Florida, adding, "Florida urgently needs to curtail our own spills. Statewide we are much worse than Valdosta. In the month of December, Florida spilled over 8 million gallons of sewage into the ground and our water system."

Phosphate mining is a big issue in the local area.

Mr. Tatum said, "The most serious environmental issue in your political districts is the proposed phosphate mine in Union and Bradford counties, potentially able to destroy the Santa Fe River if allowed to be established. We need only to look south to Hillsborough and Polk counties to see the destruction there caused by mine accidents."

Senator Bradley remarked, "I appreciate your passion and advocacy for these very important issues. You always come prepared with very direct, specific ideas and I very much appreciate that."

12 Years to Save the Planet

Christa Pribble wrapped up the general comments from the public with her concern about the planet.

Christa Pribble

Ms. Pribble told the delegation, "The United Nations warned all of us that the globe has about 12 years to reverse climate change and save our planet. I would like to urge the Florida state house and senate to look at a moratorium on fossil fuels the way that other states like Hawaii have done. It's important that we preserve our planet for our children and grandchildren. Wildlife populations have decreased by 60% in the last 40 years. It's an urgent critical issue and I beg the state to look seriously at a moratorium on fossil fuels and to stop deforestation and pollution of our water, air and land."


Before the meeting concluded, Senator Bradley named Representative Brannan head of the delegation. Representative Brannan's staff is getting up to speed and is located in Lake City, a benefit to the residents of Columbia County.

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