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Richardson Community Center:  After Months of Ill Feelings, City & County Sit Down to Hash Out the Future of the Iconic Community Center

City Councilman Jake Hill with headline: Councilman Jake Hill on City recreation. "It's time to make it right."
Columbia County Observer photo & graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Tuesday evening, April 18, the Columbia County 5 (the County Commission) and the Lake City City Council sat down for the first time in fourteen months to discuss the Richardson Community Center. Ill feelings between the County and the City over the downtown Lake City community center had been festering for some time. The local community, about two hundred strong, attended the joint meeting.

With some members of the County 5 beginning to look like clan members, the Commission was anxious to accept the deed for the Community Center from Lake City for the Community Center and put the issue behind it.

Lake City and Columbia County met for the first time in fourteen months. Photo: Observer

Columbia County had been funding programs at the Community Center since 2006. Who would be funding programs at the Center had not been resolved.

Chairman Ford announced the Richardson Community Center issue. "At this time, we will move on to Richardson.”

Without taking a breath and as if on cue, County Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth said, "Mr. Chairman, I wanna make the motion that we accept the deed from the City and take ownership of Richardson Community Center.

Commissioner Ronald Williams, within whose district the Community Center resides, volunteered immediately, “Second.”

Glen & Laura Hunter
Listening to the proceedings were Glen and Laura Hunter (front row). In the early 80s, Mr. Hunter saved the Community Center from the wrecking ball.

The discussion first addressed the $2,000,000 Community Center improvement grant that the City Council rejected under the advice of City Manager Paul Dyal and then had a change of heart. See: Lake City Rejects City Manager's Thumbs Down on $2 Mil Richardson CDBG Grant, Then Rejects His Attempt To Dump County Building Official

County Manager David Kraus said no one was sure what the state's Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) would do about the grant, and he would look into it.

After some discussion, County 5 Chairman Rocky Ford said, “I don’t think the county should be in the recreation business.”

The Public Commented

Former School Board member and Richardson Community Center Board member Lenard Johnson spoke about Community Center supervision. "You cannot let someone come here without staff supervision on-site."

Rev. Dr. Pamela Green at Richardson Community Center
Rev. Dr. Pamela Green. “Prior to answering the call to the ministry I was a clinical psychologist."

Resident Pamela Green addressed the officials: "I am the Reverend Dr. Pamela Green." Rev. Green said her church has been in existence since 1863, and it has been striving since that time "to do what is right for the children."

Rev. Green said, “Prior to answering the call to the ministry I was a clinical psychologist for children for 20 years. I was at Johns Hopkins. I was at Emory University. I can tell you, the children I worked with in those communities that made it were in structured activity.”

Rev. Green continued, telling the officials, “There are so many children here that need so much help," and she hears them “talk about being suicidal; not having food on the table; their parents fighting.”

Regarding the $50,000 that the City Council had committed to programs at Richardson, Rev. Green said, “$50,000 is not enough for what these children in this community need to be successful.”

Finally, Rev. Green asked the elected officials, "How do you all want to be known? And what do you want your legacy to be ten years from now."

Up next was Lake City resident and former City Councilman Glenel Bowden.

Glenel Bowden talking about his past at the Richardson Community Center
Glenel Bowden spoke about his past and the value of the Community Center.

Mr. Bowden told the officials: “For me, it's all about the programs. The building is nice. It's cool -- it's cold… The question today is, what are you going to do about programming -- about recreation? That's really the need… They're either going to be in the community center or the detention center.”

“I got locked up. I was 21 years old. I was in prison. Most people was [sic] my age. The difference between me and them was this. That was my first time. The kids that were there with me, they had been in jail three or four times.”

Mr. Bowden said his jail mates told him they ended up in jail because they did not have anything to do.

Mr. Bowden said running the programs without a paid staff, "It don't work."

Mr. Bowden continued, “If you want to get out of the recreation business, get out of the recreation business. Mr. Chairman, you can say what the County's gonna do. You can speak for yourself. But the next election, you don’t know what the County may do.”

Chairman Ford denied his earlier statement: “I didn’t say that.”

Mr. Bowden replied, "Somebody said they don't want to be in the recreation business.”

Community Activist Sylvester Warren addressed the officials:  “I remember this board said, ‘There is nothing they won't do when it come to kids.’ They will go find the money. My question is, ‘What kids are you talkin’ about?’  the ones at Southside (the multimillion-dollar upscale recreational complex supported by the County) or the ones at this side?” (Richardson Community Center, close to the heart of the blighted downtown area).

LCPD Chief Butler talking about the value of the Richardson Community Center
LCPD Chief Butler felt compelled to address the value of the Community Center and the need for programs that weren't sports.

Lake City Police Chief Butler felt compelled to visit the subject. He told the officials that his wife is a retired school teacher, and he learned a lot from her. He told the officials that they need to do things for children not into sports, suggesting STEM programs and homework assistance. The Chief said, "Kids want to go to college – they want to get a good job.”

Other community residents came to the microphone and explained the value of Richardson for themselves, their families, and the community.

These explanations were nothing new. The County 5 had been hearing this for some time, at times appearing to make the community beg for its community center and programming. See: Richardson Community Center Pt-II: Community Members Kept Coming to the Microphone

City Councilman Jake Hill wrapped up the conversation: “The City abandoned recreation a few years ago. I opposed it. Now it is time to make that right. As long as I sit in the seat that I’m in, I’m gonna do everything that I can to make it right for this community. Whatever the City can assist in – I’m all in. It looks like we’re all on the same page. I hope this continues to move forward.”


It didn't. Yesterday afternoon in a sparsely attended workshop addressing recreation, the County 5 again showed its true dysfunctional color. Without former legendary Columbia County Manager Dale Williams to provide his "Master's Plan," the County 5 was lost.

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