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Led by Com Ronald Williams, County 5 Stampedes Away From Utility Transparency With Lake City

Photo of Commissioner Ronald Williams with copy: 40 year veteran commissioner Ronald Williams led the charge against City-County Utility Transparancy
Columbia County Observer photo and graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Thursday morning, Veteran County Commissioner Ronald Williams led the County charge to disengage from the City Utility Advisory Committee. Only Commissioner Toby Witt bucked up against the idea, but in the end, he voted along with the herd.

For decades, cooperation between Columbia County and Lake City has been a difficult commodity to come by. Cooperation regarding utilities has generally vacillated between zero cooperation and disastrous.

In March of last year there was hope. The City Utility Advisory Board was reconstituted to include two County commissioners and two City councilmen.

The County appointed Commissioners Ford and Murphy to sit on the committee and when the City got shaky and began walking the appointments back, Commissioner Ford addressed the City Council: “We are interested in being on your utility board, and we have two commissioners willing to serve.”

Councilman Sampson followed up: “I think it's obvious that having the City and the County at the table, as we previously discussed, is the intelligent way forward.”

A little while later, Commissioner Ford added, “I think it would be beneficial for us to be on a board with the City on the utilities; that way we are in the same room talkin’…All of Columbia County needs to be on the same page when we are trying to attract economic development.”

Commissioner Ford concluded, “I urge you all – let's get together... Let's work for a better future for Columbia County and the City of Lake City and put these petty differences aside.”

See: Lake City & Columbia County Finally Smoke a Utility Peace Pipe. Agree to Cooperate

Things went smoothly until they didn’t

Two Utility Committee Meetings ago, feelings were hurt and temper flared. In the scheme of things, it was not a big deal, but the local mainstream print media jumped on it to settle a few scores and sell newspapers.

Commissioner Rocky Ford, who had been looking for an excuse to bail out of the City Utility Committee, bailed.

Columbia County’s forty-year commissioner, Ronald Williams, volunteered to take Mr. Ford’s spot. The County 5 approved his appointment without hesitation.

Commissioner Williams’ long history of confrontation followed him to the committee.

Commissioner Williams lasted one meeting before he decided to resign, taking the whole County Commission with him.

Thursday Morning (April 7) at the County 5: Utilities

County Manager David Kraus kicked off the utility discussion by announcing that City Councilman Todd Sampson had sent a request to the County to reformulate the City Utility Committee, removing all staff members and leaving just the elected officials on the Committee. That would be two County commissioners and two City councilmen.

Commissioner Williams attended one meeting of the Committee. He ignored all the positive work, discussion, and agreements of the combined City-County Utility Committee.

Commissioner Williams dove right in without missing a beat.

Commissioner Ronald Williams (file)Mr. Chairman, I'm resigning from the utility committee. To me it was useless. We only get up there and arger [argue]. I told you guys from the start, if you all appointed me to this committee, I would discuss with the committee the wishes of this board – by vote. That’s what I done at the committee and generated a argument. But this board voted five to one for us to not give away our cap [“CUP” consumptive use permit] to agreed with a – by vote – to award Greg Bailey firm, North Florida Professional Services, a contract do the potable water study at the mega site.

That's what this board voted on. This is what I related to the City. Now, this board need to say we want backup on what we done or do somethin’ different, but that is exactly what we done at our last board meetin’.

I shared that with the Utility Committee, and for now it's not productive. The way it is set up is not productive. If I cannot relay to my fellow members not to action this board, and not be supportive and what the board said, then I don't want any part of that -- so I'm resignin’.

Commissioner Ford at the utility committee
Commissioner Ford at the Utility Committee.

Commissioner Rocky Ford weighed in: “I watched that meeting. I was appalled at what was stated and what was said at that meeting – basically, we want it all or nothin’ is what I heard. I for one, if you give me an ultimatum, you're probably not going to like my answer. I don't know where some of the Council members come off with that kind of statement. I agree with Commissioner Williams, obviously we voted at the last meeting to build a water plant at the mega industrial park. Why that committee was even discussin’ the city pumpin’ water for us, I really don't even understand that at all.”

Commissioner Toby Witt
Commissioner Toby Witt (file)

Commissioner Toby Witt weighed in: “Mr. Chairman, I listened to the meeting, too. If you read the press reports (Lake City Reporter) it sounded like everybody was out of line, but once you listened to the tone of the meeting, there was only one [person] out of line and it was nobody from the County. I think the County voiced its opinion on some matters, but our staff did so in a very professional way, and their staff was very unprofessional, which was very disappointing…”

Commissioner Witt explained that the County has an opinion from the Water Management District that the sharing of the County’s water use permit with the City “was problematic. We actually had somebody tell us that, which led to our decision to pump water ourselves.”

Commissioner Witt said that it gets too complicated to share the County’s water use permit.

Commissioner Witt continued, “This is not an us-versus-them, this is what's best for the County…We will work with the City where we can."

Commissioner Tim Murphy at the Utililty Committee.
Commissioner Tim Murphy at the Utililty Committee.

Commissioner Tim Murphy said, “I agree with Mr. Williams [Commissioner Williams]…We need to have the stuff in writing…I feel like when Suwannee River comes [the Water Management District] everybody’s “unintelligible" at the end of the day.

Commissioner Williams followed up, “Unless this board, this morning, vote to rescind what we have done, there isn’t no use in discussin’ anything about a rate or joint sharing the CUP [Water Use Permit] because this board have already voted 5 to 1 on the erection [sic] we wanna go.”

Commissioner Williams added there are other projects on which the City and the County are working well together, but on the mega site the County had voted to “go alone.”

Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth
Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth (file)

County Chairman Robby Hollingsworth said, “They can't even make decisions on their own things.”

Commissioner Ford said, “We’re really wasting time trying to get anything in writing or in a contract right now, till there is some leadership in place at the City that we can nail them down on… Every week there’s somethin’ different.”

Commissioner Witt reiterated that at the mega site the County needed to go it alone.

Chairman Hollingsworth: “Can I get a motion?”

Commissioner Witt had second thoughts, “I don’t think we should fully remove ourselves from the committee…I’m hesitant to say we want to remove ourselves and not be a part of that anymore.”

Commissioner Ford said, “My thoughts are until they get leadership in place I would say we just let staff deal with the City. I think right now, it's just a waste of time.”

Chairman Hollingsworth said, “I agree with you Rocky… I don't know that a committee is the way to get things done.”

The Motion to Withdraw
What Did Commissioner Williams Say?

Commissioner Williams ("in the form of motions")

“At this time I will not serve on this committee. I will be willin’ to reconsider, once the City have a city manager and have a full Council on board. And we draw up rules and regalation on governin’ the utility committee and what's the duties of the utility committee and no way that we are breakin’ the Sunshine Law in doin’ the things that we have to do, as individual commissioners with the utility committee -- with the Economic Development Board. And I put that in the form of motions.”

The motion passed. It was unanimous.

The Clerk [Clerk of the Courts] did not read back the motion. There is no requirement for that.

However, on August 3, 2017, the County 5 passed its own rules of procedure.


The County’s rule regarding “Motions: How Made, Withdrawal” is simple:

When a motion is made and, when required, seconded, it shall be restated by the Presiding Officer and the Commissioner who made the motion shall have the floor. After a motion has been stated or read, it shall be deemed to be in the possession of the Board and shall be disposed of by vote of the Board. (emphasis added)

What the County 5 disposed of is anybody’s guess.

The Columbia County 5: the legend continues.

This meeting was attended via CMT (communications media techonolgy). To find out more about CMT read Florida Attorney General Opinion, here.

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