Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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The Columbia County 5: On the Docket Tonight Richardson – A Part of Black Community Culture

Ear with headline: Richardson community center. It's time for the County's Great White Fathers to tune in and listen
Photo: Franco Antonio Giovanella | Columbia County Observer Graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Tonight, the Columbia County 5 (County Commission) will talk about the iconic Richardson Community Center. The legal status of the Center is not clear. County Attorney Joel Foreman is supposed to make a presentation this evening to clarify its status between Lake City and County.

While the workshop was scheduled on September 20, 2022, Mr. Foreman has not provided any backup information for this evening’s meeting.

Mr. Foreman's failure is out of compliance with rules he cobbled together and were board approved.


For almost a century, Richardson has been a center of the black community in Lake City/Columbia County.

In 1928, Richardson Acadamy opened it doors with 300 students and by 1930 Richardson served grades 1-12.

In 1954 the US Supremes, in Brown vs. Board of Education, desegregated America’s public schools.

Commissioner Rocky Ford - Columbia County, FL
Commissioner Rocky Ford - Balked at following rules he approved. (file photo)

Nobody tells Columbia County what to do, and with the federal government breathing down its neck, Columbia County finally officially desegregated in 1971.

In what some may consider an effort to keep segregation going, Richardson was used as a 9th-grade center from 1971-1976. The Deep South was not into bussing.

In 1976 the Richardson public school closed its doors, and much of the building was demolished, leaving the gym and cafeteria, which became the Richardson Community Center.

It is not clear when Richardson became the community center. However, in or about 2008, after Mario Coppock retired from Lake City, he became the County Recreation Director. The County Recreation Department was headquartered at Richardson.

Sometime around then, Nicole Smith, a bright star of Columbia County, was hired as the Assistant Recreation Director, with the idea she would take over county recreation when Mr. Coppock retired.

Mr. Coppock didn’t retire. Ms. Smith got tired of waiting and went to work for the school district.

Richardson: A Family Affair and Confusion

It was not clear how folks were hired at Richardson, but if you didn't know somebody, you weren't working, and many times you may not have been eligible for some programs.

There was an issue of the Richardson Community Center Board and what it controlled; more confusion.

There were competing power centers looking for control.

There was community activist Sylvester Warren who stood the County down, with the result that it moved its recreation department out of Richardson.

There was a big mess that could not be swept under the rug.

September 20, 2022: County 5 – What Agenda?

On September 20, 2022, as the County 5 was drawing down its meeting, Commissioner Rocky Ford started a discussion about recent bizarre and lunatic events concerning Richardson Community Center and a meeting with community activist Sylvester Warren.

Commissioner Tim Murphy, Columbia County, FL
Commissioner Tim Murphy. Mr. Murphy did't want to follow rules he had previously approved.  (file photo)

After some discussion, Commissioner Ford made a motion to give Richardson back to Lake City. Commissioner Murphy seconded the motion.

The County Rules do not allow for such a motion. Information for agenda items must be turned in to the County Manager eight days before the meeting with the associated backup material to allow intelligent discussion.

The Rules, approved by The 5, concerning mugging the public are simple: “Avoid attempts to surprise or ambush Commissioners, Staff, or members of the general public.”

The only way Mr. Ford could have added a motion to jettison Richardson that evening was for The 5 to suspend its rules and then add it to the agenda.

Commissioner Ford justified his last-minute motion by arguing that The 5 had done that before.

County Attorney Foreman, not familiar with his own rules, did not advise Commissioner Ford of the process.

As there appears to have been no rational basis to have suspended the rules, it is doubtful any court would have let such a monumental decision stand without notice to the public.

The County 5: Tonight, an opportunity to listen

This evening at about 5:35 pm, the County 5 will do what it gets paid to do: listen to the public.

It is not authorized to take any action on Richardson this evening, but this is Columbia County, where nobody tells the Great White Fathers what to do, including its own rules.


After about 15 years of complaints from this reporter (also a County resident), the County is joining the civilized world. It is allowing 3 minutes (instead of 2 min.) per speaker at the microphone.

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