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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City/County News

Downtown Lake City Revitalization Hot Topic at City/County Meet - LSHA: the Gorilla in the Room 

The City and County elected officials and managers in a horseshoe in the City Council Chambers.

LAKE CITY, FL – The City Council and the Homeless County 5 (the County Commission) met in City Hall last night to discuss issues of mutual interest. The hot topic of the evening was the New City Hall proposal and shared use with the County 5.


For as long as most folks can remember, the Columbia County 5 has been homeless with no meeting room to call its own.

Decades ago, when the Courthouse was renovated, courtroom 1 was to be the meeting place for the County 5. The judges needed the courtroom and The 5 was left without a meeting room.

A 2011 article explained the situation.

"Last night the organization meeting of the Columbia County Charter Review Commission went off without a hitch -- almost. Homeless after all these years, Columbia County does not have a meeting room to call its own. It wanders from City Hall, to the School Board Administration building, to the Lakeshore Hospital Authority, to the Ag Extension Office or to the library -- sometimes not being able to find any meeting place at all."

"Last night was not an exception when County Commission Chairman Jody DuPree announced at the CRC's organization meeting, "We're gonna have to have a Charter Review Commission meeting location. As of, when I had a conversation this afternoon, we haven't located a location to hold various meetings at... We have to look for a spot. We haven't been able to find a place to locate, to hold the next meeting at."

Between then and now, not much has changed. The County 5 still has no meeting room of its own and any meeting with over 10 people has the County scrambling to find a space to meet.

Last Night in City Hall

City Manager Joe Helfenberger, County Manager Ben Scott, in the background City Clerk Audrey Sikes
City Manager Joe Helfenberger and County Manager Ben Scott

Last night in City Hall, City Manager Joe Helfenberger requested that the County share in the cost of a joint meeting place in a municipal complex that the City is looking to build on property bought and paid for by the taxpayers of Lake City and Columbia County and owned by the Lake Shore Hospital Authority.

Beginning in 2006, the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, contrary to its enabling legislation, tried to buy up every piece of property in the vicinity of Lake Shore Hospital. It was almost successful.

See: Lake Shore Hosp Auth: $4,000,000 spent in real-estate spending spree - still no plan

The City is now looking to acquire some of that LSHA property to revitalize the downtown and build a new City Hall and a joint up-to-date meeting space (with the partnership of the County) for the use of the County and the City.

County Manager Ben Scott: the School District Meeting Place

The Nash Lake City Downtown Plan
The original Nash Plan.                       Click here to enlarge.

County Manager Ben Scott explained the unwritten agreement between the County and the School District: "Currently, we utilize the School Board. We do not pay rent to use that facility, but what we do is we share in costs of improvements. Every time that something goes on - they need to work on the sound system or the new projector, they always ask us to split that cost."

Mr. Scott explained that the County 5 will have to decide if they want to share in a "meeting facility that is set up for County and City."

Commissioner Williams added that the City "is not talking about sharing the cost of the whole facility, just the cost of the meeting room."

City Manager Helfenberger – Commissioner Nash

City Manager Helfenberger explained, "The building is proposed to be 130 mph wind resistant; to be category 4; will have generator backup power so you wouldn't have interrupted services."

Commissioner Nash asked, "Are you going up there on those City blocks that the Lake Shore Hospital Authority owns?"

City Manager Helfenberger answered, "I'm going to approach them on November 12th and ask them."

Commissioner Nash said he had met with Mr. Helfenberger and went over the drawing, "when we [County] thought we were going over there."

In 2018, the County borrowed $10 million for a new municipal complex and after it received the loan, slid it over to fund the Hunter – Hilton (the new proposed unneeded County jail).

Commissioner Nash continued, "You start at your end and build it, whatever you want to do. If the County ever wanted to expand, we could come up with some kind of arrangement and take the other half... Eventually, as it grows, if you took those four city blocks, you could put two 20,000 sq. ft. buildings... That goes hand in hand with the park that you are building and you're revitalizing downtown..."

Commissioner Nash:  "I'm in favor of sharing the cost"

Councilman Eugene Jefferson and County 5 member Bucky Nash
Commissioner Nash in favor of the joint meeting space.

Commissioner Nash added, "As far as the meeting stuff, I'm OK with sharing the cost of doing it. I think that it is smart for us to look at it as a county."

Commissioner Nash mentioned that eventually the County could move its offices and bring the tax collector and property appraiser into the building.

City Manager Helfenberger followed up,"We would be seeking your input as we are developing so that we fit into your long term plans and our long term plans."

The County has no long term plans. Historically, it flies by the seat of it pants, ignores strategic plans and put the kibosh on developing a current strategic plan for the County, going so far as to have a plan presenter fly in from Indianapolis, make a presentation, with the full knowledge that no plan would be adopted.

Commissioner Williams said, "If you're talkin' about goin' there... the four blocks - if we can get it from Lake Shore Hospital [Authority] and at that time then we'll know where we're going."

Commissioner Williams mentioned that if the City doesn't get the property from the Hospital Authority then a City-County joint plan would not work.

City Manager Helfenberger closed the conversation, "It's our preferred site. We'll approach them and see what they say."

The Gorilla in the Room

LSHA Board members Lori Chancy, Stephen Douglas and Manager Dale Williams
LSHA, Board member Lory Chancy, Board member Stephen Douglas, and Manager Dale Williams, came to the meeting after the adjournment of the LSHA monthly meeting. Board member Jay Swisher also attended. City insiders are on edge about Manager Williams backroom influence on the Board members.

The Governor's Board: Lory Chancy, Brandon Beil, Stephen Douglas, Jay Swisher, and Dr. Mark Thompson, along with the county's ultimate insider, former County Manager and present part time Authority Manager Dale Williams are the deciders.

Lately, the best interest of the LSHA Board is bailing out a money losing hospital, the privately owned CHS Shands at Lake Shore and absolving it from the requirements of its lease; in the Board pipeline, renovations costing Columbia County taxpayers, millions.


It will be interesting to see what the Board members believe after they are shuffled in and out of Authority Manager Dale Williams' office. It is the way he does business and the way the Governor's Board likes it: in the back rooms and out of the public's eye. It is the culture of the legendary Columbia County.

On November 12, the public will find out the Governor's Board decision.

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