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Town of Fort White Utility Slam-Dunk Foiled: Pushback --The Rest of the Story

Part II – Plus, Serious Attorney Ethics Problem

Columbia County Observer Photo

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Part I ended with Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier ignoring Lake City’s offer to present a utility proposal to the Town of Fort White. Town Councilman Bishop, Columbia County Commissioner Ford’s son-in-law, wanted to move full speed ahead with the County.

Mayor Frazier: “With the Board’s permission, I say let's give the County permission to move forward. You all agree?”

Councilman Bishop, without missing a beat: "Yes, sir."

Town of Fort White Counsel, Fred Koberlein, Jr., continued to sit silent.

Mayor Frazier allowed the free exchange of ideas.

Rob Summerall addresses the Fort White Town Council
Columbia County resident is experienced in legislative protocols.

Columbia County resident Rob Summerall asked, “What’s the clarity of that? That we will not entertain an offer from another municipality to give the constituency the diversity of the decision process? Or are we just going to be locked into the first one?”

Mr. Summerall continued, “The City has proposed an offer to wait a period of time for them to do a proposal… you're making a decision here tonight. The City came in here and said they’re willing to … (Mayor Frazier cuts him off)”

Mayor Frazier:  “Stop for a second. We haven't made a decision for anything tonight. We gave direction.”

Councilman Bishop follows up, “We gave direction.”

Mayor Frazier finishes Mr. Bishop's sentence, "To the County Commission to move forward with a proposal. If the City wants to make a proposal and submit it to the Town, they're more than welcome. Right now, we're focused on who has always been focused with us."

Mr. Bishop follows up, “I would love to hear an offer from the City.”

Mayor Frazier added, “This is the first time we’ve ever been approached by the City of Lake City.”

Mr. Bishop:  (Jumps in again and gets into a heated discussion with the City people. Mayor Frazier has trouble reigning in Mr. Bishop, who has no idea about parliamentary procedure).

Councilman Sampson said, “It makes sense to look at all offers."

Councilman Bishop, again without being recognized, “What does the City have to offer us?”

Councilman Sampson answered, “We have a lot to offer. We have the DEP approval of 19,000,000 gallons coming out of Price Creek. We have a line less than 11 miles from here that we can run right down that's already being treated. There is no need for you to hire and pay a separate management company. We have the flexibility to meter however you want.

Mr. Bishop began arguing again.

Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier and Councilwoman Mary Fleming.
Fort White Mayor Ronnie Frazier and Councilwoman Mary Fleming.

Mayor Frazier asked, “Why has it taken this long for you to contact me? … If you’ve got a pipe 11 miles from here, why did you not reach out to Fort White?”

Councilman Sampson replied, “I came on in November. We reached out in November. The City has made mistakes in the past. The City's got to change, and that's what we are doing… should they have done things differently before – yes. All I can control is since November.”

The Independent
Michael Smallridge Address the Council - With a Warning

Michael Smallridge addressed the Town Council: “My name is Michael Smallridge. I am the owner of Florida Utility Services. I own about 20 utility systems across the state of Florida. Most of my systems are regulated by the Florida Public Service Commission. I do have three systems in Columbia County that are regulated by Columbia County.”

He continued, “You should think really hard before you go into a GUA (Governmental Utility Authority) situation because there are a lot of downsides to it. If I was in your chair, I would run as fast as I could from being in a Governmental Utility Authority. That's a decision you are ultimately going to have to make.”

Mr. Smallridge warned about the bonding authority of GUAs, saying that “the debt of one is the debt of all.”

He continued, “I would invite you to go on the Internet or call Lee, Collier, Paso, Polk, Hernando, Citrus, and Lake counties, and ask them about their experiences with the governmental authorities that they are on. I bet you a dollar to a donut every one of them will tell you the same thing that I am telling you. 'Look at your other options.'”

Bulk Treated Water – Light Years Ahead

Independent utility operator, Michael Smallridge addresses the Fort White Town Council.
Independent utility operator, Michael Smallridge addresses the Town Council.

Mr. Smallridge opined, “For a system of about 400 customers, you are just never going to make any headway [with Ft. White treating its own water]. The cost of treating the water is just going to go up and up. You're never going to catch up to it. If you can get another alternate water source that someone else is paying for, that is treating it, where you can get a bulk rate, you're going to be light years ahead.”

Mr. Smallridge warned, “Too many times, cities and counties treat their utilities like ATM machines. They draw money off these utilities, and they never reinvest back.”

Mayor Frazier asked, “We don’t have the money to put back into the system. That's why we are talking to the County. How do we fix it?”

Mr. Smallridge answers, “You have to figure out what your identity is as far as what you want your utility to be.”

Mayor Frazier said, “I think everybody on this board would agree, ‘We don't want to be in the water business.’”

Mr. Smallridge said, “I am advising you, before you jump in feet first into a GUA situation, look at all your options. That's the only thing I wanted to say.”

Commissioner Williams – He Got It

Veteran Columbia County Commissine Ronald Williams.
Veteran Columbia County Commissiner, Ronald Williams.

Commissioner Williams said, “We want to work with you. If the City gonna give you a proposal, we gonna give you a proposal - evaluate em', then you all make that decision. It's just that simple.”

Mayor Frazier responded, “Sounds good. Thank you, Mr. Williams. So, there you have it. So we're gonna move forward with the proposals.”

So far, there hadn't been word one from Town Counsel Fred Koberlein for a project that could have reached into the millions in value.

Unidentified:  “You need a motion and a vote.”

Commissioner Williams added, “Put a deadline on the proposals to be here.”

Commissioner Williams turned to Attorney Koberlein and said, “Mr. Attorney?”

Mayor Frazier said, “I’m sorry. Say that again.”

Commissioner Williams expounded, “If we gonna present proposals there should be a – I guess a application or something advertised for us to do it and a closing date to have the proposals in for you all to evaluate. Am I right, Mr. Attorney?"

Town Counsel Fred Koberlein, Jr.: What is he talking about?

Attorney Koberlein said, “What Commissioner Williams said really depends on more specifics from Mr. Kraus. Mr. Kraus said, ‘Endorsement. We'd like your endorsement to move forward.' You've got a lot of small things and a lot of monetary and fiscal issues to review, everything from linear feet to yards, to –unintelligible. I'm not sure what Mr. Kraus means by moving forward, but you can receive information from Mr. Kraus and the County next week, next month, and months on end. By the way, they haven't asked for any exclusivity, so the City can come back; Mr. Smallridge's company… there may be private utilities that may be coming to you pretty soon after they hear about this. But to answer County Commissioner Williams’ inquiries, I'm not exactly sure on what Mr. Krause plans on coming back with. So I'm not sure if a timeline is needed or not.”

County Manager Kraus weighed in, “What I was asking is to have somebody from the town, who we could negotiate with so that we could determine the terms that were best for the Town and the County.”

Commissioner Ford asked, “So, do you want them to appoint someone to negotiate with?”

There was silence, which was broken by Town Attorney Koberlein.

Attorney Koberlein said, “They’re asking you to delegate someone to work with County administration to go over numbers and other issues and then bring them back to you.”

Mr. Kraus’ letter to the Town stated nothing about going over numbers. The letter said the County wanted to discuss “the possibility of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding between the Town of Fort White and Columbia County.”

On Monday evening, neither Mr. Kraus nor any members of the County 5 mentioned finances.

Councilman Cook addressed Mayor Frazier, “Do you want to do this since you've been active in the water, like you said, for about two years?”

Unidentified:  “What about Mr. Williams [Dale Williams, Fort White Consultant]?”

Councilman Bishop jumped in, “We’re already payin’ him. (Not true – Dale Williams is on an hourly contract).

Rob Summerall:
He is confused. He was not the only one.

Mr. Summerall addressed the Mayor, “Mr. Mayor, I'm confused. Are you receiving proposals or negotiating?”

Mayor Frazier responded, “We’re not. We're negotiating - I guess - in the process of receiving proposals.”

Unidentified: “Well, do we have to put out an RFP?”

Mayor Fraser said, “But I guess one person would contact – yes – so yeah – I mean – you want one person to deal with, so you ain't got to run back and forth.”

County Manager Kraus said, “We did not know this was a situation where we'd be in a competitive bid process. We were just trying to make sure that the board was comfortable with negotiating with the County; whether we could work together on an interlocal agreement or a memorandum of understanding. Before we spend a lot of effort bringing in attorneys, we wanted to make sure you wanted us to do it.”

Mayor Frazier responded, “We would definitely entertain that. So we're moving forward with that part. But now you want us to appoint someone as a contact?”

Mr. Kraus: “Right, so that we can negotiate and determine a way to go forward.”

Your reporter asked, “What are you negotiating, may I ask?”

Mayor Fraser answered, “Negotiating water.”

Your reporter said, “Water is a big word.”

“Negotiating the Negotiating”

Councilman Bishop said, “That’s gonna be in the works. We're negotiating the negotiating.”

Your reporter said, “I think you need an RFP [Request for Proposal], folks.”

Mr. Kraus said, “All the County was originally intending to come here and ask for was a memorandum of understanding of how to proceed with providing the town water. So we were looking for someone to negotiate that memorandum of understanding.”

Mayor Frazier to Dale Williams: “Will you take that responsibility?”

Mr. Williams said, “What I would suggest is that Connie and I prepare a proposal.”

Mayor Frazier said, “Mr. Kraus, City, if you all need to contact, that [Dale Williams] would be your contact.

Councilman Bishop asked, “Do we need a motion?”

Attorney Koberlein ignoring all Florida's procurement laws and never having told the Town Council that he represented Lake City, said, "Yes, sir."

May Frazier said, “We need a motion to appoint Mr. Williams as the point of contact.”

Town Councilman Bishop made the motion, “I make a motion to appoint Mr. Williams as our point of contact for the City of Fort White, as the utility assistant - I guess we could say – director.”

The motion was seconded and passed unanimously.

Post Meeting: There will be an RFP

Your reporter asked the legendary Dale Williams if he knew why Attorney Koberlein didn’t mention he was the Attorney for Lake City.

Mr. Williams said, “No.”

Your reporter said, "What are you going to do? You know you need to put out an RFP?"

Mr. Williams said, “Yes, that is what I am going to do.”

Later that evening, City Manager Joe Helfenberger told your reporter, "City water is 11 miles away from Fort White. The City is looking forward to presenting a proposal to the Town."

This morning, County Manager David Kraus told your reporter, “We have the capacity of quality water at Ellisville and the ability to provide the Town with quality service and accommodate its needs.”


This is not the way procurement is supposed to work.

This is not the way attorneys are supposed to work.

Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., is the Attorney for both the Town of Fort White and the City of Lake City. This is a conflict of interest.

Columbia County, Florida: the legend continues.

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