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County 5 - Town of Fort White Set To Meet Tonight: Utility Issues, Water & Wastewater On Tap

Teepee with headline: County5-Fort White utility pow wow
Photo: Keith Davis via Pixabay  | Columbia County Observer photo & graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Finally, after months of huffing and puffing, indignation, and finally threats by the County 5 to end all interlocal agreements and cooperation between the County and the Town of Fort White, the two governments are scheduled to sit down in Lake City in the same room at 6 pm Thursday.

All the issues brought up by the County affect the folks in the South End of the County and the Town. The County 5 adamantly refused to meet with the Town in Fort White.

On November 22, 2023, at 12:47 pm, the County posted its agenda for the November 30 joint meeting. The agenda is here.

There are two items on the agenda:

      (1) Work Performed in Fort White – Interlocal Agreements

      (2) Ichetucknee Water Utility Authority – Grady Williams, Attorney

However, work performed in Fort White is separate from the interlocal agreements. That makes three items. The Columbia County 5 continues to be challenged by the English language.

What does the County do for the County taxpayers in the Town of Fort White?

On November 1, 2023, Assistant County Manager Kevin Kirby presented statistics showing that the County generated 2,938 work orders within the Town limits over the past ten years. Fort White residents pay their full complement of County taxes.

The interlocal agreements are something else. While the County looked back ten years to find Fort White work orders, it did not state how many concerned the interlocal agreements they threatened to eliminate. One of the interlocal agreements is for Code Enforcement, for which the County keeps all associated fines and fees.

The other interlocal agreements concern Small County Outreach Program (SCOP) grants, water and wastewater agreements, and traffic light maintenance. Traffic light maintenance appears to be the only agreement for generating work orders.

The threat of canceling the interlocal agreements between the Town of Fort White and the County seems spite-driven. Fort White Town Council members have called the County's threats "extortion."

The second item on the agenda is (2) Ichetucknee Water Utility Authority – Grady Williams, Attorney, which is what the County's strong-arm tactics are about.

This agreement is a “Water/Wastewater” agreement. The County’s inability to get the name right is emblematic of a decade and a half of proven incompetence and lost opportunities when it comes to utilities and utility planning.

The County seemed to be on the right track when it hired its last utility director, but his tenure ended abruptly, some say, when he couldn't "take it anymore."

The County feels if the Water/Wastewater Authority proposal is approved, it will open the County to millions and tens of millions of dollars in state and federal grants. The County needs to be associated with Fort White because of its location as a critical area on top of the aquifer.

Nobody has explained why Fort White, with the right leadership, planning, and associations, couldn’t take care of the water and wastewater utility issues on its own.

The County Rules of Procedure: The County 5 doesn’t need rules 

The County had proven time and time again that following its own rules is a non sequitur. Commissioners constantly talk over each other, interrupt, and fail to ask for recognition by the Chair.

Many times, the County 5 appears to be in a bar room conversation rather than a convened governmental County Commission meeting.

The rule:  No Commissioner shall speak on any question or discuss any matter, nor interrupt another, nor make a motion without first being recognized by the Chair… No Commissioner shall be interrupted by another without the consent of the Commissioner who has the floor… A Commissioner, in speaking on any matter, shall confine him - or herself to the question or matter before the Board; shall not use unbecoming, abusive, or unparliamentary language; and shall avoid commenting on personalities or character of other Board members, former Board members, other officials, staff, or the public.

See: Columbia County 5 – Rules of Procedure – What’s That? Ignoring Their Own Rules Is a Way of Life

Agenda Supporting Information: Problematic for the County 5

The County's practice and policy, charter and rules explain the necessity of providing supporting information when necessary for agenda items.

When County Chairman Rocky Ford went after the Sheriff with 12th hour last minute memos and presentations from the County Manager, County Attorney, and former County Auditor Richard Powell, the rest of The 5 didn’t bat an eye.

See: Columbia County 5 vs. Sheriff Mark Hunter

County Manager David Kraus had Thursday’s (November 30) meeting agenda posted to the County website on November 22 a little after midday. There was no supporting information. So much for "prior to the meeting at which the item is to be presented," it is to be complete with all appropriate back-up material sufficient to warrant discussion.”

Posting the supporting information would not have been difficult for the County Manager to accomplish. The almost 3,000 County Fort White work order information was available from Assistant County Manager Kevin Kirby.

The County Attorney mentioned the interlocal agreements, which are on the Nov. 30 agenda on November 1. They were easily available.

The proposed Ichetucknee Water Utility Authority agreement was in possession of the Economic Development Department and others.

Every item on the Nov. 30 agenda has no supporting information for the County 5, the Town of Fort White, or the public.

At 3:32 pm today, County Management posted six slides previously prepared by North Florida Professional Services (NFPS), the County’s and Commissioner Ford’s engineers. While the slides didn’t have numbers when presented on November 1, they now have numbers. The slides have nothing to do with anything on the agenda, there is too much information on the slides to be valuable during a presentation, and the type is too small.

What is going to happen at the Pow Wow?

That is anybody’s guess. The County advertised the meeting as a special meeting, not a workshop. History shows The 5 does this so they can vote on something, even if they don’t know what it is before the meeting. That is not in the rules.

The Town of Fort White advertised the meeting as a workshop. No action is taken during a workshop, which means there are no votes.

Late yesterday afternoon, the County sent out a notice announcing the Nov. 30 meeting and included the five slides from NFPS. It appears the County did not inform its keynote presenter, Utility Legal Consultant Grady Williams, of the pendency of the meeting.

He told the County he would not be able to appear, but could appear virtually.


So, tune in, pop some popcorn, and be surprised. The County 5 rarely fails to surprise.

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