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Part II: Columbia Cnty Econ Dev Tim Murphy Style Taking Care of His Friends – Ignoring the Rules

Developer Tim Williams (standing) makes his presentation. Seated: (left to right) Asst. Cnty Manager David Kraus, Chairman Murphy, Econ Dev Dir Glenn Hunter, Cnty Attorney Joel Foreman.
Developer Tim Williams makes his presentation. Seated: (left to right) Asst. Cnty Manager David Kraus, Chairman Murphy, Econ Dev Dir Glenn Hunter, Cnty Attorney Joel Foreman.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County Economic Development was the topic at Wednesday's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting, which had a friend of Board Chairman and County Commissioner Tim Murphy looking for a fast track tax rebate incentive to build a private condos development with an average selling price of $175,750.

As pointed out in Part I, the EDAB is strictly advisory: it makes recommendations to the County 5, which gives the thumbs up, thumbs down, or sends it back for further action with its own recommendations.

The duties of the Chairperson are clearly spelled out in bylaws: (1) preside at the meetings; (2) call meetings and follow the bylaws; (3) sign documents and correspondence approved by the EDAB.

The Economic Development Director is tasked with among other things, meeting "with prospective clients who are considering locating in Columbia County."

Tim Murphy – the Politician – What Rules?

Wednesday's Board discussion continued. (see Part I)

Tim Murphy: Columbia County County Commissioner
Tim Murphy: met privately with the developer (his friend); did not ask the Board for a recommendation; volunteered to take the project to the county manager.

In the civilized world the Chair waits for Board members to weigh in before asking for a motion or wrapping things up. A Board member can make a motion at anytime. While nothing prohibited Mr. Murphy from giving his opinion after Lake City City Manager Joe Helfenberger had spoken, the Chairperson usually hears from board members before weighing in.

Following established rules and etiquette, as well as speaking into microphones so that he has a better chance of being understood, has been problematic for Mr. Murphy since he took office.

The Chairman Jumps In:
"We've been friends for a long time."

With other Board members yet to be heard, Chairman Murphy jumped in.

Mr. Murphy addressed Developer Tim Williams [as spoken], "Tim, is it reasonable to say that if I spoke with management that there could be a presentation -- I mean this is a lot to take in to try to set forth and send it to the board with us say, the meeting after next. Would you all be open to an immediate workshop -- if you want to say -- as far as this presentation given to the board of County Commissioners -- you know -- prior to the meeting. And then of course, that would be a public meeting."

Translation: Mr. Murphy could arrange for the developer to go right to the County Commission.

Mr. Murphy continued "You're goin' down a new path -- me and you had a discussion yesterday. It's a pretty unique plan... the housing thing is a big deal as far as attracting some of the major projects that we seek out."

Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter added, "It's a gap in our tool box."

Mr. Murphy said, "You know how small town politics are. Me and Tim have been friends for a long time. Probably ever since the time he showed up here in Lake City. I do some work for him."

Board Members Not Pleased – Have Questions

Attorney Joel Foreman (center), Tim Williams (left), Jennifer Goff (right)
Attorney Joel Foreman told the Board, "We're really not talking about job creation at all."

Board member Stephen Douglas weighed in, "I did not see a score card in this package concerning the rebate."

Years ago the EDAB approved a score card that rated projects for rebates.

Director Hunter said, "This doesn't fall under the typical score card industry. This is outside the box."

The scorecard was designed for industrial and retail.

Mr. Douglas said, "We have a rebate incentive program - retail/industrial. That's what this Board has created... We need to have a discussion about whether the Board can rule on this... We're all about job creation."

Chairman Murphy said, "I'll be honest with ya'. I forgot about it."

County Attorney Foreman weighed in, "We're really not talking about job creation at all."

Developer Williams said, "I know there are some other people that want to speak in favor of the project."

Left to right: Board members Stephen Douglas and Terry Dicks
Board members Stephen Douglas and Terry Dicks were not happy.

Murphy waives the rules – The Chamber of Commerce Weighs In – Charlie Keith Has Questions

On July 10, 2019, an iron fisted Murphy suspended the rules so that his friends from Florida Gateway College could come to a meeting and getaway without answering questions from folks that came to ask questions. (See: No Questions Allowed: Commissioner Tim Murphy Suspends Rules for Florida Gateway College Brass)

This time, for this friend, Developer Tim Williams, it was different.

Theresa Pinto: Columbia County/Lake City Chamber of Commerce director
Columbia County/Lake City Chamber of Commerce Director Theresa Pinto.       (file photo)

The Director of the Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, Theresa Pinto, stood up and said the Chamber Board feels there is a gap in housing. "A project like this is critical to the future growth and well being and economic vitality of this region."

EDAB member Charlie Keith asked, "How accurately does your board reflect the feelings of the business community? I bring up the Blanche hotel. The board was in favor of it and every business person I talked to was not."

Ms. Pinto replied, "The Blanche and all that was before my time... Our board is supposed to represent the membership."

Mr. Keith said, "I'm a local business man. I've never been asked by a board member about anything. How much input did they actually get?"

Ms. Pinto said, "They are representing the interests of the majority of the members."

Mr. Keith responded, "I can't help but think that contractors and others are going to have issues with local government supporting a private venture, much like the Blanche Hotel.... We're interested in jobs... The first I knew about this project was when it was presented at this meeting."

Long time EDAB member Terry Dicks weighed in, "Where is the line: industrial - retail? What is our real mission? ... I like the project, but we as a board have to remember our mission statement and stay focused."

The Board Is Not Ruled by a King
It needed to take some kind of action

Chairman Murphy did not ask the Board for direction. The rules make any decision of the board a collective one.

Mr. Murphy told the Board, "I don't foresee a motion going forward."

Then he addressed his friend, Developer Tim Williams, "Tim - I  personally - if me and you could get together and bring this to the County Manager so he can discuss it with the Chair and see if it's something they're interested in doing collectively."

Tim Williams: realestate developer
Developer Williams making his final remarks.


Developer Tim Williams: the last word

Developer Williams, clearly frustrated, told the Board:  "I just want to be clear about a couple of things. We can't do this project without the incentives we are asking for... If projects like this were possible without some assistance, they would be here. They are not. So we're struggling. That's not going to change unless a project like this comes. .. No other project can succeed without the type of support we are asking for."


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