Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Cnty 5: At $80k Each & Dealing With a Diminishing Public, The 5 Digs in With Insulting Behavior

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, who drives 40 minutes each way, addresses the County 5. Six members of the public were left at the meeting. She was surprised to see the giant clock.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Thursday evening, at the bimonthly meeting of the homeless County Commission (the County 5), the public was in for a new surprise: a giant 2 minute warning clock projected on the screen at the front of the school district auditorium, the home away from home of the homeless County Commission. None of The 5 acknowledged the countdown clock and no one would take ownership of it. If a speaker didn't beat the clock, an annoying buzzer went off, without shutting off until the speaker left the microphone. The board members thought that was pretty funny.


The County 5 began getting antsy beginning in 2007 when your reporter began asking questions and the public began coming to the microphone to do more than genuflect at the feet of a county commission which was used to deciding its business in the back corridors.

A history of antagonism toward the public?
Commissioner Ronald Williams challenged your reporter to "go behind the barn."
Warned a member of Citizens Against Forced Utilities that he "wasn't bullet proof."
Accused a citizen of "plunderin' around" his personal equipment and warning that if he "be blowed up," the police should search for her.

In 2015, The 5 reduced the time for public comment from 5 minutes to 2 minutes, with the result that some speakers spoke at the speed of the old FedEx commercials, where the FedEx Guy spoke a mile-a-minute.

The commercial was funny; citizens addressing The 5 at breakneck speed are not and the end result is that many times most of their comments can be rendered relatively useless to everyone.

At Monday's Legislative Delegation meeting, hosted by Florida Gateway College and chaired by Florida Senator Rob Bradley, the senator made it clear that he was there to hear what folks had to say and they could take as much time as they needed.

There was no need for buzzers, bells, or ducks that came from the sky to warn a speaker that their time was up. Senator Bradley let everyone talk and only a couple of speakers got carried away. All the speakers were respectful, as most speakers are at public meetings all across the state.

Experienced and inexperienced speakers alike can usually cover a single topic in three minutes.

Other Rural Counties

Most other rural N. Florida cities and counties make every effort to have the public involved.

Lake City under the leadership of Mayor Witt gives speakers 15 minutes. With rare exception, most speakers generally say what they have to say in three minutes or less.

Even before SB 50 (2015), the FL law which mandated the public be given the opportunity to speak, when Jack Brown was county manager in Taylor County, community members were encouraged to comment after each discussion item was concluded and before the county commission voted.

For years the Columbia County 5 have been outliers, throttling and disrespecting the members of the public who they consider their enemies.

This year, with two new members of the County 5, who are still getting their 'sea legs,' things may yet shake out differently.

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