Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hospital Authority: Dragging Its Feet on Medical Care, Putting a Hold on the Rush to Reclaim Downtown Property From the City

photo of LSHA Manager Jack Berry from 2009 pointing to a map of LSHA properties.

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Seemingly unknown to anybody in Lake City Government, other than Mayor Witt, tonight’s soon-to-be Ex-City Manager, Joe Helfenberger, met with the Lake Shore Hospital Board members privately to try and hammer out a deal.The subject: the property the Authority donated to the City in February 2021 – they want it back.


Beginning in 2006, the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, under the leadership of Republican operative Jackson P. “Jack” Berry, had converted a large portion of Lake City's downtown into a vast wasteland of empty lots.

The process was so hinky, the U.S. Justice Department looked into the Authority’s practices. Nothing was ever done.

In 2010, the City hired IBI group, world-class master planners, to develop a master plan for the downtown redevelopment.

After over two years of work and over $120,000, the City Council approved the Downtown Lake City Redevelopment Master Plan. (see: Lake City Downtown Redevelopment Plan Approved: Now will the work begin?)

A few years ago, Columbia County was thinking of building a real municipal center, which the County residents could be proud of. County Commissioner Bucky Nash met with Lake Shore Hospital Authority Attorney Fred Koberlein, who was also the City Attorney, about a transfer of parcels of Authority-owned property to the County.

According to then-Commissioner Nash, Attorney Koberlein came up with some hang-up, which would make the transfer of the property difficult. The property was located in the heart of downtown. It is unclear if Attorney Koberlein notified his other client, Lake City, of the County's plans.

In 2020, City Manager Helfenberger came before the Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board and requested two blocks for the City to build a new City Hall and associated parking. His final request was based on the County’s preliminary work.

Lory Chancy and the Governor’s Board

Long-time Authority Board member, Lory Chancy, had dreams for a vital a public hospital. Instead, she and the LSHA Governor's appointed Board were incapable of devising any successful plan.

Her long-time board membership and the Board's and executive directors' lack of planning skills have resulted in a Hospital Authority with a fat bank account ($22 mil in cash), under 100 clients, empty buildings, vacant lots, a vacant hospital which nobody wants, and not much more.

In February 2021, the Authority deeded two city blocks to Lake City to build a City Hall and associated parking. The lots were vacant for over a decade; the Authority had no plans for the property.

Ms. Chancy was the driving force to include a reverter clause in the deed. This clause gave the City two square City blocks with the caveat that if the City didn't build a City Hall on the property within four years, the property would revert back to the City.

What About City Hall?

As far as the City building a new City Hall, while there has been discussion at a couple of Council meetings, the last thing in the official record which mentions City Hall occurred on March 1, 2021, where among other things, Mr. Helfenberger proposed “the construction of a 7,500 square foot new City Hall at Marion and Franklin at a cost of $1,875,000.”

The Lake Shore Hospital Authority Agenda

On tonight’s Authority agenda is a discussion and possible action requesting the parcels given to the City be returned.

According to Board Chairman Brandon Beil, Mr. Helfenberger was supposed to come to the Authority and make a presentation.

It appears the only one on the City Council, and maybe the whole City, who knew that Mr. Helfenberger was working on a plan and meeting with the LSHA Board members was Mayor Witt.

Mayor Witt told the Observer, “I don't know why they are in such a rush to do something.”

Councilman Sampson and Councilman Jefferson said they would like to address the Authority on the property issue.

Neither of them said they knew what City Manager Helfenberger was up to.

Authority Chairman Brandon Beil: Doing the Fair Thing

Authority Chairman Brandon Beil is doing the fair thing this evening and plans to walk back the agenda until the City can get its act together.

Yesterday afternoon, Chairman Beil sent the following message to the Observer:

The LSHA conveyed the property to the City of Lake City with the understanding that they were using the property to build a new City Hall. It has become apparent they now have other plans. I would like to get the City's input on what their new plans are for the property. Unfortunately, the City rescheduled their meeting to coincide with the LSHA meeting, so that will not be possible this month. I will ask the trustees to consider tabling this agenda item until a representative from the City can give us an update on their plans.

Note: after this article was published, it was discovered that the Authority meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum.

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