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Columbia County Observer

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Richardson Community Center: Columbia County Moving Back the Hands of Time on Race Relations

Photo:  | Columbia County Observer graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – This past Thursday morning, April 6, the infamous Columbia County 5 met to do the County’s business. Hidden away on the morning’s consent agenda was a secret attack against the iconic – in the heart of the Black Community – Richardson Community Center (Richardson).

On Wednesday evening, April 5, Councilwoman Chevella Young and the rest of the Lake City City Council refused to be extorted by the Columbia County 5. The Council came up with a counter-proposal to the County's "You give us $150,000 a year, or “else,” in which it threatened to walk away from the iconic Richardson community-recreation center.

See: Richardson Community Center: City Council Doesn’t Buckle Under To County 5 Extortion


Coming into the Thursday morning meeting, Columbia County's 'great white fathers' (not all of them) had concocted a scheme to jettison Richardson shortly into the meeting without any discussion by anyone. How? Hidden halfway down on the morning's consent agenda was an innocuous item, item number 5: "BCC Administration – Richardson Disclaimer."

What is the consent agenda? County Attorney Joel Foreman’s Rules of Procedure explains it this way: the Consent Agenda includes routine business items, including ministerial matters, such as approval of minutes, and some other stuff that the County considers routine.

County Attorney Joel Foreman
Elected County Joel Foreman is the Board's parliamentarian. It is rare he uses that authority.

The approved rules state, "Consent Agenda items shall [in law shall = must] be submitted with backup materials sufficient for their consideration as if they were placed on the Board’s regular agenda.”

Translation: if something is placed on the County 5’s consent agenda, it is required that enough supporting material be provided to enable one to make an informed decision.

Consent Item number 5: "BCC Administration – Richardson Disclaimer" did not have a scintilla of supporting information.

To ensure this wasn't a mistake, your reporter called and asked for the supporting information and was told by two different people on two occasions, "There is none."

Rather than attending Thursday’s meeting virtually, your reporter drove to Lake City to personally attend.

County Commissioner Rocky Ford
County 5 Chairman Rocky Ford. He approved the agenda.

Upon entering the meeting room, he approached Chairman Ford and asked for item 5 to be removed from the consent agenda.

Mr. Ford didn't look like he wanted to remove it.

During one of the presentations, your reporter filled out a comment card with a written request to remove the Richardson item.

When the consent agenda was approved, the item "BCC Administration – Richardson Disclaimer" was removed and added to the regular agenda.

Disclaiming a deed is controlled by Florida statutes. It must be in writing. Commissioner Ford approves the agendas.

Richardson Community Center, The Discussion:
Chairman Ford Has an Idea

Chairman Ford said he listened to the City Council meeting of the previous evening and understood the City had agreed to fund $50,000 for programs at Richardson, adding, "There was some talk about double taxation. I really don't believe that's applicable."

Property owners in Lake City pay their full complement of County taxes, along with their City taxes. City property owners are approximately 15% of the County population but are responsible for generating 25% of the taxes.

Chairman Ford had an idea: take the community center from the City and run it like every other community center in the County. “We do a contract with the Richardson Community Center Board just like with all the other community centers. We basically pay utility bills, and we do any major maintenance to the centers. Just like the Town of Fort White. We have a contract with the Town of Fort White. The Town of Fort White runs the community center... They [Lake City] want to provide programming at the community center. We'll turn the programming and the recreation part over to the City."

Kevin Kirby
Asst. County Manager Kevin Kirby

So far, unannounced, while this conversation was going on during the meeting, Assistant County Manager Kevin Kirby had County workers at Richardson clearing out the security system, computers, and furniture.

Chairman Ford said, “Over the last 16 years, the County has spent millions of dollars at Richardson Community Center. Just last week, we spent over $150,000 for a generator at Richardson Community Center, so it could be a storm shelter in case of emergencies.”

A storm shelter is for everyone, Lake City residents, Columbia County residents, and depending on the storm, Florida residents, and anyone else who needs shelter. That is what Americans do.

The Richardson “generator” was budgeted for $171,399. The low bid was $118,750 for "generator and electrical improvements, a substantial and interesting difference in Mr. Ford’s off-the-cuff-numbers.

Mr. Ford also recommended something this reporter has recommended to the County 5 on numerous occasions, a sit down with the City Council. Mr. Ford wants to discuss 911 combined communications, animal control, and Richardson.

Mr. Ford also mentioned in his remarks, “There was a letter last night. I don’t know how this letter come about – somebody’s trying to stir – stir shit – basically – sayin’ that the letter that we sent the County didn’t go along with what we actually voted on… as far as the money goes.”

Going Back One Day
The County 5's Ultimatum

On the morning of the April 5 City Council meeting, your reporter inquired of Columbia County Clerk Jay Swisher, for a copy of the motion approved by the County 5 during its March 23 meeting. At this meeting, it voted to give the City Council the Ultimatum: pay us $150,000, or else.

The Observer provided a transcript of the County 5 action, also sending a copy along to the City Clerk.

Via email, Clerk Swisher provided a copy of The 5’s motion to your reporter and the City Clerk, who circulated Mr. Swisher’s email and the Observer transcript/request to the City Council before its meeting on Wednesday evening.

The City Council members had no doubts about the County's requirements for deed acceptance.

There was further talk about separate contracts with the various County built-owned-maintained and privately run community centers.

Commissioner Ford again weighed in on the County's relationship with Fort White: "What I see -- the way to do it is just like we do with Fort White. We do a contract with the City of Lake City. They run the community center. They provide programming at the community center, just like we do at Fort White.”

There was County 5 discussion, and it was agreed that none were sure of the Council's final determination.

There are lots of City attorneys. None of them had the time to communicate with the County to clarify what the City had done. It appears the communication to the County was left in the hands of Todd Kennon, the City's new attorney, along with Folds and Walker.

One hour and three minutes into the meeting The 5 once again threw decorum out the window as Chairman Ford let everyone talk as though they were in a bar-room conversation. The one that spoke the loudest had the floor.

Public Comment

Commissioner Ford asked for public comment.

Sylvester Warren
Community Activist Sylvester: calling folks derogatory names is becoming his trademark.

Community Activist Sylvester Warren came to the microphone. After brief comments about political suicide, he asked Commissioner Williams if he would like to bet $100,000.

Chairman Ford asked Mr. Warren to stick to the subject of Richardson.

Mr. Warren responded to Chairman Ford, “I gotcha, boy.”

Mr. Warren asked if the black youth “in the community have no more recreation from the County, as they have had for fifteen years… Is that what the black commissioner is sayin’ – the good old cowboy – to the community?”

Mr. Warren claimed that the County was “holding the black community hostage…. I applaud y'all. Y'all have really pulled the curtain back; some of y’all have put the clan hoods on.”

Mr. Warren explained there was a time when the board said when it came to the kids, The 5 would "find the money. But now we see, y'all only mean certain kids – not all kids."

Dr. Phillip Mobley addressed The 5, telling them the Richardson Board must communicate with The 5 to clear some confusion.

Commissioner Ron Williams: "We have a responsibility"

Commissioner Williams told The 5, "The City cannot provide the demand for recreation within that area with $150,000 a year. It just won't work. Although we own the building, we have a responsibility to provide recreation for all of Columbia County. Somewhere in this negotiations, we need to come up with a set amount that we contribute to the City of Lake City to help them provide recreation for the inner-city.”

Commissioner Everett Phillips: "I agree"

Everett Phillips
Commissioner Everett Phillips made a difference for the folks who use Richardson.

Commissioner Everett Philips weighed in, “I agree with that… I’m going to do my best to get help for that community. There’s a lot of people in that area.”

There was some more talk. There was talk about the disclaimer, the deed disclaimer, which needs to be in writing.

Not mentioned was that so far, no one has been able to find a recorded deed for Richardson Community Center.

Commissioner Murphy motioned that the County not accept the deed until after the City and County meeting.

That motion passed unanimously.

Community Activist Reels In Former County Manager Dale Williams

Dale Williams interrogated by Sylvester Warren
Former County Manager Dale Williams being interrogated by Community Activist Sylvester Warren.

Community Activist Sylvester Warren came to the microphone to make public comments. On his way to the microphone, he asked if he could call Dale Williams to the microphone.

Without waiting for an answer (there was none), Dale Williams, like a yo-yo on a string, headed to the microphone.

link go federal lawsuit final judgementIn 1984, twelve years after the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit against Lake City, the federal court ruled that Lake City discriminated against "All black residents of the City of Lake City" and that the City's "practice, custom and usage of racial discrimination in the provision of municipal services” was not legal.

The City of Lake City was ordered by the court to right its wrongs and to use Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to comply with the court order, as well as state and local funds.

Mr. Warren got his actors mixed up, as the defendant was only Lake City and not Columbia County.

Dale Williams's reply was not germane to the lawsuit, although he said it was, and the accuracy of his answer has not been verified.

In 2023 dollars, the City of Lake City was required to make $2.5 mil in repairs to the black community, part of which included Richardson.

When Mr. Warren’s time was up, he shouted at Chairman Ford, “You got it, boy?”

Still Not Over

City Manager Paul Dyal addressed The 5 asking for clarification. It was recommended that County Manager Kraus and Mr. Dyal would work it out. In the past, City-County's "working it out" tactic was often unsuccessful.

After 40-plus years as a commissioner, Commissioner Williams was well acquainted with the cooperative success rate.

Commissioner Williams interjected, “I make a motion that we sense and accede [sic: cease and desist] of movin’ anythin’ out of Richardson until we meet with the City and have a good understandin’ on which way we goin’.”

Commissioner Phillips immediately seconded the motion.

County Manager Kraus began talking. Commissioner Hollingsworth interrupted, asking no one in particular, “Can we vote on that?”

 County Attorney Foreman answered, “It’s really unnecessary...”

Commissioner Ford agreed, "That's right."

There was more discussion as Attorney Foreman and Chairman Ford worked to blow off Commissioner Williams.

Commissioner Williams spoke up, “I made a motion, Mr. Chairman.”

Chairman Ford, who had no option but to call for a vote, tried to hold off Commissioner Williams, "I know, Commissioner, but aah.”

Commissioner Williams would not be denied, “You can either carry my motion and [let it] die, without a vote, but you cannot take my motion off the floor.”

Once the motion was seconded, which it was, there had to be a vote.

Commissioner Ford, “I didn’t take it off the floor.”

Robbie Hollingsworth
Commissioner Hollingsworth. Parliamentary procedure is not his forte.

Barely audible, Commissioner Hollingsworth chimes in, “Where’s the lawyer at?”

Finally, Attorney Foreman said, “Mr. Chair, go ahead, please, entertain the motion."

Chairman Ford spoke, “So we have a motion [Williams] and a second [Phillips].

Commissioner Hollingsworth, out of the blue, "Second."

Chairman Ford ignored Mr. Hollingsworth and continued, “Not to remove anything out of Richardson Community Center until – after this [City-County] meeting.”

The motion to leave Richardson as it was passed 3-2, with Commissioner Ford and Commissioner Murphy voting in opposition.

Commissioner Tim Murphy
Commissioner Tim Murphy. He wanted the County's stuff out of Richardson, now.


The joint County-City meeting is scheduled for April 18. County Manager Kraus has confirmed that the Richardson Community Center is insured.

Both sides have enough time to get their ducks in a row.

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