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Richardson Community Center Pt-II: Community Members Kept Coming to the Microphone

Photo: Columbia County Observer | Columbia County Observer Graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Tuesday evening, Richardson Community Center was the main event at a special meeting of Columbia County's infamous Columbia County 5 (County Commission). Once again they demonstrated that they needed to take sensitivity training and some history lessons.

On July 12, 1992, presidential candidate Ross Perot referred to a group of NAACP members as “you people.”

Mr. Perot appeared ignorant that Black folk consider "you people" a racial epithet and demeaning.

Thirty years later, four of Columbia County’s County 5 heard nothing wrong when first Commissioner Toby Witt and then Commissioner Tim Murphy referred to Black audience members as "you people."  Those who came to speak for saving Richardson Community Center were predominately Black and had come to voice their views on the value of the historic community center in the heart of Lake City's Black community.

County Manager David Kraus explains the County side of the issues
County Manager David Kraus explained the County's side of the issues.  He left some stuff out.  Observer Photo


On September 20, 2022, it came to light that community activist Sylvester Warren allegedly harangued county staff members with what some considered questionable tactics. In a fit of pique, the County 5's Rocky Ford made an illegal motion to give Richardson Community Center back to Lake City. While it wasn't clear how The 5 would do that, Commissioner Tim Murphy jumped on board and seconded Mr. Ford's illegal motion.

County Attorney Joel Foreman didn't open the rule book but convinced the commission to table the motion.

Last night’s special meeting was scheduled to hear from community members before The 5 took final action.

The back story, which no one brought up, is that Lake City residents pay the full complement of County taxes, besides their City taxes.

With Commissioners Ford, Murphy, Witt, and Hollingsworth furious with community activist Sylvester Warren and unable to get a handle on the situation, they motioned and voted to give Richardson back to Lake City, a City in disarray.

The motion was a ruse by four of the County 5 to give Richardson back to the City, saying it's yours and then stopping the funding.

Richardson Community Center Board

The Community Center Board had, for the most part, good intentions. The comingling of County funds and workers with Richardson Board members duties and responsibilities has been problematic for years.

Forgotten in the fog was what Richardson Community Center means to the Black community, the youth of that community, and the County as a whole.

Last Night’s Meeting: the Community Weighs In
Speaker After Speaker Came to the Microphone

Chairman Robby Hollingsworth opened the meeting for public comment. The public speakers are in order of appearance. All comments are abridged.

Mr. Perry
Mr. Harold Perry

Mr. Harold Perry was the first speaker from the public: I'm here to talk about the recreation center. I worked there about three years. The inner city kids comes there to keep out of trouble. We're the babysitters. Since this turmoil has come up, the kids don't have anywhere to go. It hurts me, and it hurts them. We need the County to keep it open.


Chuck Hall
Mr. Chuck Hall

Chuck Hall:  Mr. Hall said the motion to give Richardson back to the City needed to be stopped. He said, Richardson is sacred to me and to other people, and the police don't get calls about drug activity from Richardson. We don't need law enforcement to make people get along. Richardson gym – Richardson community is more than playing basketball. I ask you to think about the community. You're destroying the community. What is the reason you want to exclude Richardson Community Center? We need Richardson to stay open for the community – for the children. It hurts me that there is even the thought to closing Richardson down. That’s deep.

AZ Handy
Ms. AZ Handy

AZ Handy:  We don’t have many places for youth in our community. I think, ‘What are we doing to help the youth?’ We need to put fresh ideas together with the old ideas. We need to work together and come together as a community to help our youth. We need things that are going to draw the youth in. This generation of youth – they are headed down a dark path.

Ms. Handy is with Hands of Change


Monty Ashby
Mr. Monty Ashby

Monty Ashby: I volunteer every time I can. I don’t need to get paid to help our community. If we can’t help ourselves, who are we going to ask for help? You can’t wait for anybody else to do things for you. We need something here for the youth.

Mr. Ashby is with Hands of Change



Sylvester Warren
Mr. Sylvester Warren

Sylvester Warren:  Let's talk about who this is really about. This is about one man that you all can't silence. That you all can't consequence, so you try to punish a whole community and think that a whole community would turn on him. Your personal feelings toward one man should never reach the level of leadership flushing our kids and inner-city recreation down the toilet.

Rev. Pamela Grant
Rev. Pamela Grant

Rev. Dr. Pamela Grant:  I agree with other people. I am in shock that we are having this discussion. You all know the impact of recreation, especially on our young black men. You know how important recreation is to their lives and their future. You know about the school to the jail pipeline, so how could we possibly be here? I will be happy to loan my time to you to help you with a quality improvement process versus a knee-jerk reaction.

Horace Jefferson:  I’m a retired teacher. I think one of the things that you are overlooking is the need. Just concentrate on that word right there, ‘need.’ (Mr. Jefferson walked away from the microphone)

Erica Mayo
Ms. Erica Mayo

Erica Mayo:  There are so many things going on in our community that to keep on going and promote our youth, we need a center where we've always promoted our youth. My dad used to make sure I got up to the community center to participate in recreation. We need to continue to keep the community center open so that our youth can have a place to go, express themselves and stay out of trouble. We do need a new board because there are things that need to be changed. Please continue to fund the community center.

John Cole:  I’m here with Kids Feeding Kids. I want to urge you all to reconsider passing the buck. I am not sure why you would contemplate giving it to the City as the City has proven not to make any good decisions -- especially in regards to kids. The Richardson center is much more than a recreational center. It's a place that helps families in many ways.

Lee Williams
Ms. Lee Williams

Lee Williams: I went to school at Richardson, and I graduated in 1963. Richardson means a lot to this community because we have the historic aspect of Richardson High. That is something that we have the keep alive. I love Lake City. Please don’t leave us out to dry.  

AD Adams: Forty years ago, I had the chance to take advantage of the recreation in Columbia County. It's for the kids. It's not for the Board's sake.

Shannon Williams
Ms. Shannon Williams

Shannon Williams:  I work as a grant writer. I have been writing grants for about seven years. I wrote a grant for the Richardson community center. It's called the African American historical grant. It was for $500,000. The state is waiting to find out who will administer the grant. It's very important to me that the County gets involved in this opportunity. I want to volunteer my services to continue to find grant opportunities for the Richardson community center. There are ways to generate funds if we just come together and talk about things.

Tony Johnson
Mr. Tony Johnson

Tony Johnson:  Thank you, Commissioner Williams. Thank you, Dr. Mayo, for speaking up and telling it like it is. Thank you, Sylvester Warren, for telling it like it is. Sylvester Warren speaks for Sylvester Warren. He made it very clear to you. When did Richardson become such a hellhole? What happened?

Commissioner Williams:  It ran good for 15 1/2 years.

Mr. Johnson continued: It’s almost unexplainable how valuable Richardson Community Center is. It is a historical site -- especially for those of color.

Conrad Wallace
Mr. Conrad Wallace

Conrad Wallace:  The first thing I want to let you all know right now: Sylvester is not the boss of the Black community. (Mr. Wallace named a bunch of men that “paved the way for us”). Richardson High School is a place that people talk about all over the world.





Barbara Mizel Perry
Ms. Barbara Mizel Perry

Barbara Mizel Perry:  I heard the question asked, "Why should you invest the funds for property you don't own." I heard the people answer the question. This is for the greater good. This is for the children. It's for the community. Keep it open. Keep the community relationships good."



Davion Jones
Mr. Davion Jones

Davion Jones:  I'm here to express my unwavering support for the Richardson Recreation Center. The center is like no other in our County. Richardson serves as a community center and the Columbia County Rec Center. We have all kinds of stuff going on in that facility. I'll address the elephant in the room. Sylvester Warren is my friend. Sylvester Warren speaks for himself. Because his voice is louder than others doesn't mean you should weaponize Richardson. I don't think anybody in this room is ungrateful. Just because we don't want to appear and fall at your feet doesn't mean we are ungrateful. We all support Richard Rec. Don’t pull the funding.

Robin George
Ms. Robin George

Robin George:  As much as we try to deflect from the conversation of race, sometimes it's so deep and so embedded in us that our perspective in the lenses of our eyes only let us see one way. When you talk about closing Richardson, what you are saying is our kids’ history is not important.



Glenel Bowden
Mr. Glenel Bowden

Glenel Bowden:  Sylvester is my deepest friend.  I was dumbfounded [speaking about the last meeting] that a motion was made to talk about cutting the funding at Richardson – during the comments section of the County commission [meeting]. The public wasn't notified. I am offended that we are even standing here tonight.




chavella young
Ms. Chevella Young

Chevella Young:  We're here today because there is business at hand. We should be adding. We do not have enough recreation for our children. We need more places for community center(s). We depend on you today to make the right choice – the right decision – not just what's favorable, but what's right.


Columbia County 5: Its Performance - Embarassing

The County 5 does not have time limits for themselves. After the public weighed in, they went on for an hour and thirty minutes, bickering, shouting, and being disrespectful of the process.

These are the same people that criticize community activist Sylvester Warren for his public approach.

The lack of decorum was enhanced by catcalling from the audience.

Commissioner Ford again showed he has no use for the County 5 Rules of Procedure he approved.

After taking heat, he simply disappeared his tabled motion to give Richardson back to the City. There was no second or anything the Rules of Procedure require. County Attorney Foremen was silent, as was Chairman Hollingsworth.

County staff will talk to the Richardson Board. Ignoring the County non-interference policy in the County Charter, Chairman Hollingsworth said he wanted to meet with the Richardson Board. Commissioner Witt reminded Chairman Hollingsworth this was against the Charter. Mr. Witt’s warning fell on deaf ears.

As the meeting ran down to its final seconds, County Manager Kraus said the County staff would try and report back to the County 5 during the last meeting in October.

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