Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Lake City/County News

County 5 Pledge $15,000 for an Anti Panhandler Marketing Campaign Without Seeing a Plan

jennifer Anchors and Commissioner Toby Witt

Links to more Columbia County/Lake City panhandler-homeless newsCOLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Thursday night, November 21, the Columbia County 5 pledged $15,000 of Columbia County tax dollars for a marketing campaign designed to inform the public not to give money to panhandlers. In order for the money to be delivered, the Chamber of Commerce and Lake City must make similar matches. United Way will facilitate the campaign.


On November 7, the Columbia County 5 passed an ordinance which makes it illegal for pedestrians to interact with motor vehicles on public roads. The ordinance did not mention panhandlers or panhandling.

In plain English, if anyone walks into traffic and speaks to the driver of a car, truck, bus, motorcycle, moped, van, scooter – or – if the driver of the vehicle engages in conversation, they are in violation of the County ordinance and can be given a ticket to appear in court.

On November 14, the ordinance was discussed during a Homeless Coalition subcommittee meeting.

Councilwoman Melinda Moses
Councilwoman Moses

Councilwoman Moses didn't know that the City Police could not enforce the new County ordinance and said she would check with the City Attorney.

Chamber Director Theresa Pinto said she had a problem with panhandlers approaching her at the downtown library parking lot when she was sitting in her car.

Mr. Witt explained that the ordinance was not applicable in the library parking lot.

Director Pinto said, "Jen [United Way Exec. Dir. Jennifer Anchors] took care of that." There was no other explanation.

The subcommittee, which includes elected representatives of both the City and the County, is operating in a 'Sunshine Never Land' and keeps neither minutes nor any official record of its proceedings.


The marketing idea was initially unveiled at the Homeless Coalition subcommittee meeting on November 4 at a cost of $57,500. This was reduced to $46,500 at the November 14 subcommittee meeting. No paper work was provided and the specifics of the reduced plan were not made public.

United Way's Anchors spoke about the marketing campaign. She said, "I think all that you wanted is in there." She presented nothing to the committee and said the final budget was $46,600.

Brandon Beil, a member of the Chamber Board, explained the Chamber Board's position about paying for the funding of the education: "The Chamber Board feels that they already pay taxes. If the City and the County do an educational program the Board feels as if they are putting up again. They've already paid taxes."

Theresa Pinto
Theresa Pinto

Chamber Director Pinto added, "It would be a $15k investment if we used our dues... They are not fully sold on how effective a marketing campaign is going to be."

The Blue Card

Over the past few months the United Way "Blue Card" has come up numerous times. During one City Council meeting, community activist Sandra Smith gave a copy of the infamous Blue Card to the City Manager.

It has been recommended that instead of giving money to panhandlers or the homeless, the United Way Blue Card should be given.

United Way is the coordinator of the Blue Card outreach. There is no 800 number on the card; no 24 hour hot line; no weekend number for any of the agencies, which seem to only take calls during normal business hours.

If one shows up in need after 5 pm on Friday, they are out of touch and out of luck till Monday morning.

Ms. Anchors said, "If you show up at the Homeless Coalition today, you are leaving there homeless. We don't have funds to do anything for you today."

As it turns out, United Way, who is the lead agency of the Homeless Coalition, has done nothing to next to nothing regarding public awareness.

Mr. Witt said to United Way's Anchors, "I wish I had the cheat card you gave me." Ms. Anchors chuckled.

Mr. Witt said, "The problem is funding. It's not that the services aren't out there. There's more demand for it then they have resources to give. It's not like they're not doin' anything."

The County 5 Weighs In

During the November 21 meeting Commissioner Witt explained the new County ordinance to the rest of the 5, "We passed an ordinance that says it's illegal for a motorist to interact with a panhandler while he's engaged in traffic and it's also illegal for the panhandler to interact with a motorist."

The ordinance didn't say that. No one corrected Commissioner Witt.

Mr. Witt continued, "They [the subcommittee] are requesting $15,000 from the County. The City is going to follow suit; I think the business owners are going to kick in and the Chamber is going to kick in. An all encompassing public awareness campaign."

So far, nobody had kicked in. The City is 17% of the County population and pays all County taxes as well as City taxes.

Mr. Witt provided nothing to The 5 to review, no proposed advertising budget, no literature and no agreement.

The only marketing material revealed at the subcommittee meeting was in Jennifer Anchors phone. She shared it with no one other than Mr. Witt.

Your reporter pointed this out to The 5.

Rocky Ford

Commissioner Ford said the he supports the work of Mr. Witt and made a motion to give him $15k for the design and marketing of the awareness/marketing campaign.

Commissioner Williams restated Mr. Ford's motion. The new motion added that the County would contribute $15,000 on the condition that the City and the Chamber of Commerce contributed similar amounts.

It was not clear who would be keeping track of the money.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On November 30, 2019, a Lake City resident wrote:

Leave the panhandlers ALONE. If I see a hungry man or woman on the roadside or in a parking lot and want to give them some money for food --THAT is my business. And my constitutional right.
PS -- And DON'T WASTE 15,000 TAXPAYER DOLLARS on this kind of small stuff !!!


This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.