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Rum Island Park: More Than Just a River Front. A Gift From Mother Nature & the Federal Government – Too Much To Handle For the Columbia County 5

The County 5 solution: 'Give it back to the feds.'

Commissioner Rocky Ford and the renovated spirng at Rum Island Park
Photo: Columbia County Observer

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On June 20, 2024, the Columbia County 5 (“The 5” or the “County Commission”) had on its docket “update on Rum Island.” The evening’s presentation was given by Assistant County Manager Kevin Kirby and was discussed by The 5.

At the conclusion of the most recent meeting of The 5, your reporter asked for an update on Rum Island. It looks to be coming up on the County 5's next agenda. This article is about where the County stands on the issue, which was discussed in depth on June 20.


County Attorney Joel Foreman
County Attorney Joel Foreman. He is The 5s parliamentarian. (file)

In 1965, the Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") of the United States Department of the Interior conveyed 44 acres to the County Commission.

According to a memo by County Attorney Joel Foreman, The 5 can lease out the park to a private operator, close the park, and voluntarily return the park to the federal government.

June 20, 2024: A Shameless (what meeting rules) County 5 discusses Rum Island Park. It wasn't pretty.

Assistant County Manager Kevin Kirby (the co-county manager, according to the last draft of the County organizational chart) introduced the subject at the podium.

Kevin Kirby: asst. or co-county manager
Assistant or Co-County Manager Kevin Kirby. (file)

Mr. Kirby [abridged]:

I was requested to bring Rum Island back to the boardroom. Before we start talking about what we're gonna do to fix Rum Island. I'm gonna give you all an example. We got ready; as far as I can remember, there was a little asphalt milling and parkway down there when we built the bathrooms. We noticed that we did not have a handicap parking spot once we constructed those hundreds of thousands of dollars on the bathrooms…

Commentary: there was no asphalt milling or any kind of handicapped parking at the newly constructed restroom. Your reporter brought this to the attention of Commissioner Rocky Ford. Commissioner Ford saw to it that there was handicapped-accessible parking by the newly installed restroom).

Photo of Rum Island Spring with copy that reads, "Our first responsibility is the natural resourse," Com. Tim Murphy
From the Observer archive below. See March 8, 2020. Four years later, Mr. Murphy wants to give this Columbia County gem back to the federal government.

From the Observer Archive:
Columbia County's Rum Island Park: Finally, the Politicians Are Paying Attention – March  8, 2020

Columbia County's Rum Island Park
Rules & Fees on Center Stage in Fort White – July 10, 2020

After a Year, Rum Island Park Finally Re-Opens: Handicapped Parking an Afterthought & an Issue – August 31, 2020

•  Rum Island Park: Additional Handicapped Parking on the Way, Along With More Security & Cameras – September 22, 2020

Mr. Kirby continued:

We wore out three, four trucks and ten telephones gettin’ the permit to build that. I'm not smart enough to know all those details of why we had to do that…

I don’t know what to do to fix Rum Island. Clint [Clint Pittman, parks superintendent] and I discussed the 4th of July comin’ up. We're gonna get law enforcement to help us. I mean, it's a band-aid. But Mr. Chairman, you asked me to bring back up Rum Island. We've tossed around every which way, but Sunday… You, you're dealin’ with a small piece of real estate…

I’m up for discussion (unintelligible) that Rum Island. Um, but it's not a easy fix. You got a little bit of park – a lot of folks.

But what we do know – is – we go down… we put sod in, we do all this, it leads to what? We put a gate up, it get tore off.

link to june 20, 2024 10 minute audio clipI don’t know. You’re herdin’ gats.

The audio for this article was stripped from the County YouTube video. The fourteen-minute audio was reduced to ten minutes and is available here.

link to 14 minute Rum Island audio clipIf one want to struggle through the complete fourteen minutes, that audio is available here.

Not one leader of Columbia County follows its procedural rule, which demands that one be recognized before speaking. Many of the County 5s meetings degenerate into unhinged barroom-like discussions, which include stream-of-consciousness-like dissertations from County 5 member Tim Murphy.

During meetings, County 5-member Rocky Ford is often inaudible. He refuses to use the microphone, and long-time Chairman Ronald Williams refuses to ask any of the 5 to "use the microphone."

The conversation continued.

Unidentified     Something

Comissioner Tim Murphy     Who, who can you give it to?

Kevin Kirby    The federal government.

Tim Murphy    0:02:06    Heah, Heah.

County Attorney Joel Foreman     We, we, we, and again, the question would be, would they take it back?

Kevin Kirby    0:02:10    Right.

Joel Foreman    0:02:11    Um, but that is our only recourse. We can't, we can't remove it any other way.

Commissioner Robbie Hollingsworth   Water (unintelligible).

Mr. Kirby weighed in again:

Mr. Kirby  [abridged]  00:02:21    I think you're limited… The best you're gonna do is on your holiday weekends is have your law enforcement there. Um, and, and you know, it’s a monetary thing. How much are you willing to spend?... I personally do not know such a small piece of real estate that has that many folks tryin’ to go to it.

Chairman Ronald Williams: It Can’t Be Fixed

Commissioner Ronald Williams has been sitting on The 5 for over forty years. His inabilbity to follow the approved rules and his incivility are legendary. (file photo)
Commissioner Ronald Williams has been sitting on The 5 for over forty years. His inabilbity to follow the approved rules and his incivility are legendary. (file photo)

Chairman Williams   0:03:14    It’s, it’s no fix for it. I’m tellin’ you guys, there’s no fix for it. Unless you goin’ hire law enforcement to be down there all the time. That’s the only fix there is to it. You can't put an individual down there that don't have credentials with a gun on his side ‘cause they gonna kill it.

Commissioner Rocky Ford    The whole problem though, Kevin, you're right. It's just you don't have real estate down there for people to try to use it.

Robbie Hollingsworth       What, what is it? A couple acres. It ain't, it ain't much, is it?

Kevin Kirby    It's not much.

Robbie Hollingsworth     Ain't much.

It is forty-four acres

Unidentified    But, uh,

Rocky Ford     I think the only thing you could do is enforce the rules somehow another, as far as the number of cars parked in there, if it's full. You know, I dunno how you keep them out, though. They walk in [Kirby cuts Com. Ford off and over talks him]

The 5 is doubling down on Wild West meeting decorum at all its meetings. They know they are often unintelligible, rude, and out of order. To them, it is now like a badge of honor: ‘Nobody tells me what to do, including the decorum rules I approved.’

Kevin Kirby    0:04:05    Right. Commissioner Ford is. Commissioner Williams indicated, who's gonna enforce them?

Rocky Ford   (unintelligible)

Kevin Kirby     … we got all kind of problems…

Rocky Ford    0:04:22    I've got, I got pictures today. I’m sure Clint’s got ‘em on his phone, too. They tore the sock system up down there. I mean they

Robbie Hollingsworth     What?

Rocky Ford      Oh yeah. It’s – It’s.

Ronald Williams    It’s no fix for it.

Tim Murphy: Columbia County County Commissioner
County Commissioner Tim Murphy. (file)

Tim Murphy first ran for County Commissioner in 2012 and told everyone he attended many County 5 meetings and was always up on the issues. He lost. In 2016, he ran again and won. Between 2012 and now, Columbia County and the state of Florida have spent over $500k on improvements to Rum Island Park. Until the meeting on the 20th, he didn’t know where the park came from. He was not alone. Chairman Williams has been a member of the County 5 since 1981. He didn't know either.

Tim Murphy     Who, Kevin, who, who gave it. I know Clint made mention of it, but who, who get actually give it to the county back when they did? How, how did we come into?

Chairman Williams     I don't know. Ever since I've been here, we have control of it.

Tim Murphy      Because I think you say Clint, you can't deed it out. Is that correct?

County Attorney Joel Foreman is the County Attorney. He wrote the rules, approved by The 5, which don't allow for interruptions. He is the parliamentarian and can enforce, or at least try to enforce, the non-interruption rules. For now, he goes along to get along and ignores the rules with the rest of them. His "No" below went unheard as the Commissioners talked on.

Joel Foreman    No.

Unidentified      (Unintelligible)

Tim Murphy       It sure would. Clint's hair wouldn't be quite as gray if he didn't have to worry about that. I tell you that.

Robbie Hollingsworth    What little he has.

Tim Murphy     (laughter)

Superintendent of Parks Clint Pittman enlightened The 5.

Clint Pittman: Superintendent of Columbia County Parks and Grounds
Clint Pittman: Superintendent of County Parks and Grounds

Clint Pittman    0:05:11    Commissioners… In the original deed, when we received that property, it was from an agency with the federal government… We cannot relinquish that property or give it to any other agency unless it goes back to them... 

Joel Foreman    0:05:37    That's correct. It's for public. It's for public use as a park. And if we ever don't do that, we give it back to the federal government.

Chairman Williams    0:05:45    What’s a park and (unintelligible)

Joel Foreman        0:05:48    I don’t remember. I was tryin’ to pull it up. Probably the interior. It's usually the interior is givin’ up property.

Robbie Hollingsworth        0:05:52    What would the federal government do with it, you think, Joel, if they got it back?

Joel Foreman        ... I think it's highly unlikely they’d operate a park there.

After more talk, Com. Ford said, “… Basically, everything we've done is about

Unidentified       destroyed.

Superintend Pittman opined that law enforcement was the solution to the issues at Rum Island Park, and the park entrance fee is subsidizing the cost of law enforcement (the Sheriff Deputies).

The Law Enforcement Issue. Rum Island Park is county-owned. Why is the Sheriff charging the County extra for needed law enforcement during holidays?

Rocky Ford    0:07:08    So explain to me. Now, you said, we cover that. Are we havin’ to pay for law enforcement?

Unidentified     (Unintelligible)

Unidentified     (laughter and remarks)

Clint Pittman    0:07:15    Yeah. We we've gotta pay them overtime hours to have on duty officers down there.

Tim Murphy      (laughter – yeah – laughter)

Ronald Williams     (laughter)

None of The 5 explained the joke.

Rocky Ford    I mean, if we fund the county sheriff, why do we have pay county?

Clint Pittman    0:07:31    These officers are officers that are not on duty, on patrol at the time. So, they're off their normal shift. But we do have to have those officers to be there. They're stationed there at the park for the length of time we have them booked for.

Tim Murphy    0:07:46    Rocky, probably 45 bucks-an-hour, too. That's what we paid at the fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds are private. That is why the Sheriff is justified in charging for security. However, the County regularly provides County personnel through Kevin Kirby to do work at the fairgrounds for no charge.

As far as charging for "Off-duty officers, Sheriff Hunter may be the only person who can explain the rationale behind that.

Kevin Kirby    0:08:00   … You'll have to pay for your, what we call off-duty officers… We have enough… We have captured enough money to cover law enforcement for a time. But you will run outta money by doing that.

Rum Island Park: a wonder of nature.
Rum Island Park is more than just river front. It is a wonderland of nature.

Commissioner Murphy was saying to give Rum Island Park back to the federal government.

Tim Murphy    0:08:22    And you'll run out officers. Because you know, the, the truth is, I mean, one of the guys that work at the shop, he showed me a picture Monday of this past weekend, and he was tellin’ his friends because I made the, I said they're probably gonna start haulin’ vehicles. So, he's telling them don't park here. You know. So, but my point is, but there was still a lot of people there this past weekend and uh, now the rivers open back up. Guess what? All your boats gonna stop, stopped. I, I personally, I mean, I'd have no problem, Joel, preparin’ you connect. I mean, contact whoever. Uh, I know it's not gonna be politically uh, uh, popular, but you can't, you can't win this fight. That's just all there is to it.

link to 14 minute Rum Island audio clipBeginning at 0:09:11 Chairman Williams begins talking about, "Someones gonna get hurt real bad down there and we're gonna be liable for it."

There was talk about gunfights and other things. The complete fourteen-minute Rum Island audio is here.

link to june 20, 2024 10 minute audio clipThe ten-minute and forty-second audio, which is used for this article follows (four minutes have been cut out), is here.

Kevin Kirby    0:09:06    We’ll have law enforcement there next weekend for the 4th, whenever that is…. We can't just keep throwin’ law enforcement at it without a bunch of impact. We can for a short minute, but we do need to conclude this somehow.

Tim Murphy    0:09:24    What do you need, Joel? What do we need? Do we need a motion?

If one listens carefully to the audio, Mr. Foreman can be heard trying to say something in the background.

Rocky Ford     I, I mean, at this point I think we just, I agree with Mr. Commissioner Murphy. Contact the federal agency and say, ‘All right, what, what do y'all wanna do?’

Joel Foreman      I, I'll get you a brief and tell you what your options are. Bring it back.

Rocky Ford     Because they either need to take it back or they need to amend that deed or something where we can

Unidentified      Yup.

Rocky Ford       Put a company down there, lease it out to somebody that can stay there fulltime, maintain, operate the park. And if that don't work, I don't,

Robbie Hollingsworth     but I dunno if they're gonna be able to make enough, make a livin’ at it. You know.

Everett Phillips       Joel, we need to find out how many people they say can go in there. Got that, that's a big thing. You got that? (overtalking)   We gotta stop it at that point.

Unidentified     (overtalking)   Law enforcement, if you don't have law enforcement, man, go down. If you don't have law enforcement, do whatever they wanna do.

Ronald Williams      Joel gonna give us some something and we could look at it. Okay? Alright  

Kevin Kirby    0:10:29    Thank you, gentlemen.

During the Rum Island Park renovations Commissioner Ford and Columbia County Sheriff's Office Deputy Pete Spurlock admire the park renovations. Commissioner Ford was doing a really good job with the park – until he wasn't.

Epilogue: A group with no shame

The Columbia County 5, the infamous County Commission in Florida,  doubled down on its disrespect for itself, the process, the public, and Mother Nature.

The whole discussion ended with a big joke and a bigger laugh.

Tim Murphy    00:13:53      In mean time, we’ll see you down there on 4th of July, Kevin.

All      Laughter

It looks like Rum Island Park will be on the next County 5 docket on July 18 beginning at 5:30 pm.

There may not be a lot of people laughing.


On July 17, 2024, Russell from Lake City wrote:

It is very painful listening to these idiots and also knowing that the fate of this county is in their hands. I grew up  here when I was around 12 and remember my parents saying good things about the people that ran it. After working for the county for a short time since I moved back I can tell you this town is very corrupt. I'm sure if the problem of rum island was affecting one of their personal ventures it would have already been resolved. When someone in any kind of power position here needs anything approved or has a hurdle to jump,it gets handled. But meanwhile the normal civilians in this town get run over and never get a chance to move forward!!


On July 8, 2024, Laura from Columbia County wrote:

I've rarely heard such a load of BULL! We need new Commisioners, as it seems these guys don't really have a clue about what THEY are doing, or even why! I can only shake my head! When recreational visitors come, they spend money in our county. The county collects tax revenues from that spending. Jeez, get a clue!!


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