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Columbia County 5: Public Hearing Highlights Deficits In the Nuts & Bolts of County Process 

Commissioner Tim Murphy with headline: Columbia County 5's Tim Murphy. Keeping his eye on the nuts and the bolts

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night’s meeting of the County 5 demonstrated once again that when it comes to respecting access and the need to inform the County’s residents, The 5 falls short. Commissioner Murphy wants a change.


In and around 2010, the County Commission (County 5 or The 5) was getting some heat from members of the public. Residents were asking too many questions that were getting under the nails of some of the commissioners and County Manager Dale Williams.

Legendary Commissioner Ronald Williams even challenged your reporter to “go behind the barn” when certain questions hit too close to home.

One resident was forced to see a psychiatrist when the meetings began making her mentally ill and physically sick. She told your reporter that it would take about a week for her to recover from The 5's meetings.

Eventually, her only cure was to avoid County 5 meetings and stay away. She did and was never seen again.

Even the County minutes became problematic. The County minutes, which once accurately portrayed the public’s and commissioner’s sentiments during meetings, were gutted.

Then County Manager Dale Williams claimed the accuracy of County minutes came up during some court proceedings, but he could never produce those minutes or the court proceeding.

Joel Foreman, then County Conflict Council, got involved and met with Clerk of the Courts P. DeWitt Cason. Goodbye long-form accurate minutes. Hello summary minutes: minutes which contained motions and votes, and just the names of public speakers.

Gone were the comments of Columbia County’s elected officials and its citizens.

Public comments also became problematic. The County 5's answer: give the public two minutes, and for good measure – make the public wait until the very end of the meeting, which could be three hours, to get their two minutes.

As the County 5 meetings got longer and longer, neither The 5 nor the County Attorney saw any reason to change their “just make them wait” posture.

Many County Commissions have more respect for their citizens. They give a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting so that residents don’t have to sit around “forever” to avail themselves of their right to address their elected or appointed leaders. They are also given three minutes at the conclusion of the meeting.

Advising the public of the pendency of the issues before it is the job of the County 5 and its staff. The minuscule type in legal notices doesn’t cut the mustard.

Unless one is an expert in land development, much of the time, it takes an expert to explain those issues.

A preliminary plat approval on last night’s agenda highlighted the County’s unpreparedness to answer the public’s questions.

No one was available to present the plat approval request to the County 5 and the public.

A code compliance officer was listed as the presenter. She wasn’t there.

In the past, the County Planner, a qualified expert, presented plat approvals. He was not available and is now working in HR.

The request was from North Florida Professional Services (NFPS). From the video feed, which never shows who is in attendance in the back of the meeting room, it is unclear if North Florida Professional Services was there. Its lobbyist, Dale Williams, was.

Daniel Craps, one of the County's biggest developers, was listed as the owner’s agent. He was not in attendance.

Chairman Hollingsworth opened the public hearing. Terri Rasmussen was invited to the microphone. Chairman Hollingsworth gave her the two-minute warning as she came to the microphone.

Ms. Rasmussen had questions about the zoning, which the County could have explained in a competent presentation of the plat request.

County Attorney Foreman addressed Ms. Rasmussen’s question. Commissioner Rocky Ford gave additional explanation.

The County 5 approved the preliminary plat.

Commissioner Murphy: Not Happy

As the meeting moved on, Commissioner Tim Murphy weighed in on the lack of County zoning and planning personnel in attendance at the meeting.

Commissioner Murphy recommended that “in the future” the former County Planner [Brandon Stubs] be required to attend the meetings “because he can put it in a lot clearer terms.”

County Manager Kraus said Mr. Stubs was not available.

Mr. Murphy followed up, "Well, we probably should have tabled this one."

Attorney Foreman, who has been County Attorney for years, recommended that in the future, "we need to ask applicants to be present to answer questions for the board."

Mr. Foreman did not mention anything about answering questions from the public.

The hearing could have been continued to a time certain with a minimal amount of advertising and the simple posting of the notice on the County bulletin board.

Chairman Hollingsworth told your reporter earlier today, "If people had complained, I would have considered continuing the hearing.”


It is in the wind that the County 5 is waiting until after the election to make some significant changes in the administration of the County.

One may expect changes in citizen time limits, public hearing presentations and presenters, and the County organizational chart.

In addition, the Administrative Code section, which explains the functions and duties of the County Attorney, who wrote himself a wealth of expanded powers at the last revision of the Administrative Code, may be a subject of major County 5 review, as might his contract.

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