Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news from Florida for working families since 2007

County News

TDC Director Paula Vann: The American People Paid $330,000 for a Master Plan, Ms. Vann Doesn’t Want to Release It

Disrespecting a Long Tradition of Columbia County Public Record Access

Photo: Angela Yuriko Smith via Pixabay | Columbia County Observer graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – TDC Director Paula Vann has had problems releasing public records in the past. The hot-off-the-press $330,000 Master Plan for the controversial 500 acre park and recreational facility purchased by the County has been ready for a while. Ms. Vann has stalled its release.

Columbia County, a Sterling Record of Public Access

Going back to County Manager Dale Williams in the mid-2000s through County Manager Ben Scott and now County Manager David Kraus, Columbia County has had a long tradition of “no issue” public record access. While some folks may have had issues with how county managers did their job, as long as this reporter has been requesting public records, Columbia County has always led the way in public record access.

Of course, there is always the exception to the rule. Meet Jackson P "Jack" Berry, who, when he led the LSHA, did everything he could to subvert the public records law. His intransigence eventually cost the Authority and its insurers what is estimated to be over a half-a-million in legal fees, all because he didn't want to release a twenty-five-cent record.

In times gone by, if the County had a question about public record access, it relied on the legendary former First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Peterson to make a decision, and then the County went by that.

Former County Attorney Marlin Feagle and current County Attorney Joel Foreman have never stalled providing public records. County Attorney Marlin Feagle used to say, “If it’s a public record – just give it to em’.”

Columbia County’s assistant county managers have also worked to uphold the County’s long tradition of public record access.

Columbia County’s Constitutional Officers have never stalled a request to this reporter.

Columbia County's top brass and Constitutional Officers have made the County the gold standard in public record access.

TDC Director Paula Vann

Hotel Owner Mahendra Patel
Hotel Owner Mahendra Patel, along with everyone else, was not smiling about the recommendation to hire Paula Vann.

Ms. Vann began her employment with the County under a cloud in 2014. She had no tourist development experience and no government experience. The TDC didn’t want to hire her, but her family connections with the Vann Clan got her the job after long time County Commissioner Ron Williams told the TDC, ‘you will hire her.’

See: Tourist Development Council Meets - Number 4 Pick Recommended to The 5 - Nobody Smiling

Ms. Vann's latest public record stall occurred in June of this year when she wouldn't release the PowerPoint presentation in one of the most idiotic branding campaigns in history.

Under the guidance of Ms. Vann, the County’s TDC removed any mention of Columbia County from the TDC brand and came up with “Lake City – a canoe or kayak (no one is sure what it is) Florida’s Springlands.”

Image of the TDC logo, with copy: Columbia County's Tourist Development Council. The New Logo: They forgot about the county. Lake City, it has no rivers or springs
Columbia County Tourist Development Council: A New Logo - What Were They Thinking?

Lake City has no rivers or springs.

While just about nobody thought this $150,000 rebranding made any sense, the County’s infamous County 5 (County Commission) didn’t say word-one. That’s the way they generally work.

The TDC Meets Today
Where is the $330,000 TDC Master Plan?

TDC Director Paula Vann
TDC Director Paula Vann  (file)

Yesterday morning your reporter tried to reach Ms. Vann, calling at 8:27. She did not pick up, and your reporter tried again at 8:45 with the same result. Ms. Vann is also the County's Public Information Officer.

At 9:21 am, your reporter spoke with TDC Office Manager Michelle Moore. Ms. Moore was told I was trying to reach Ms. Vann and would try again later.

At 9:30 am, your reporter filed a public record request with Ms. Vann, copied to Ms. Moore, requesting the Master Plan and the PowerPoint presentation scheduled for today's TDC meeting.

There was no response from Ms. Vann.

Commissioner Rocky Ford
Commissioner Rocky Ford (file)

At 9:39 am, a call was made to Commissioner Rocky Ford, hoping he could shake loose the Master Plan from the iron grip of Ms. Vann. Commissioner Ford is Chairman of the TDC. Commissioner Ford did not respond.

At 2:15 pm, Ms. Vann answered the phone.

Your reporter asked about the request for the Master Plan.

Ms. Vann said it wasn’t ready and that she also would not release the PowerPoint because that wasn’t ready.

Ms. Vann said she was busy and had a reasonable time to release the record.

Florida courts have found that a reasonable time to release records is the time it takes to locate the record, do the required redactions, and provide it.

When your reporter advised Ms. Vann of the law, she came up with another excuse, saying the file was too big to email.

Your reporter called the County’s IT guru, Todd Manning, a man so skilled in IT that it is rumored that he has done work for the Mossad.

Your reporter asked Mr. Manning about the report. Mr. Manning explained there was a way that it could be emailed and that it was a public record.

Mr. Manning contacted Ms. Vann and advised her how she could email the "Master Plan."

Ms. Vann’s response had changed from earlier that morning when she claimed the Master Plan "was not ready."

Now, according to Mr. Manning, Ms. Vann claimed the report was “not available to the public yet."

County Manager David Kraus

County Manager David KrausIn the past, County Manager David Kraus has made public record access a hallmark of his office, saying, “We have a real issue with following the public records law.”

At 6:21 pm, your reporter spoke with County Manager David Kraus.

Mr. Kraus said he doesn’t like the County having public record issues. He asked, “Why didn’t she just give you the record?”

After a short explanation of the chain of events, Mr. Kraus said he would look into it.

At 9:32 pm County Manager Kraus sent the following email: “Mr. Lilker, I just finished speaking with Joel Foreman [County Attorney] about your public records request made to the TDC. As we agree that it would be a public record, I will make every effort to locate and forward you a copy in the morning. David Kraus."


Columbia County can be screwy and is a land where its good ole’ boys are legendary.

After decades of the County being the gold standard of public record access, the top management of the County will not let one bad apple spoil the bunch.

Comments: to add a comment go here.

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.