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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hospital Authority

LSHA: With an Illegally Constituted Board, Part-Time Exec Dir Dale Williams Wants to Begin Searching for a Hospital Tennant All Over Again

Photo of Dale Williams, part time executive director of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority with caption: Bleeding public funds, is it time to take another look at the Lake Shore Hospital Authoirty?

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Lake Shore Hospital Authority meets tonight with an illegally constituted board. Since last October, it has seen its client base (now 75) and its funds diminish. After over a year of failure, and having blown through $1.6 mil, the Authority’s Part-Time Executive Director wants to start all over again.

Background: How Did the Lake Shore Hospital Authority Get Where It Is? The Legislation

On June 16, 1947, the Florida Legislature empowered the County Commission to make payments to the Lake Shore Hospital not to exceed $5,000 per year. The money was for hospital purposes. At that time, the hospital was owned and operated by Lake City.

Two years later, in 1949, the state authorized the County to give $6,000 a year to Lake Shore Hospital through a tax levy not to exceed one mil “for the use and benefit of the Lake Shore Hospital.”

In 1955, the Legislature established the Lake Shore Hospital District and the Lake Shore Hospital Corporation primarily "for the purpose of maintaining and operating a public hospital.”

Beginning in 1955, the Governor appointed board members, and the money the Lake Shore Hospital Corporation received was to be "placed in its reserve fund and used for hospital purposes."

In June 1961, the state upped the allowable milage to 1 1/2 mills for the "purpose of making additions and improvements to Lake Shore Hospital.”

In July 1963, the Legislature established the Lake Shore Hospital Authority with powers similar to today. The 1963 legislation was the first legislation that mentioned indigent care.

The 1963 law carried the theme of earlier session laws stating: “No person shall be a member of the authority who is engaged in the practice of medicine…” [emphasis by the Observer]

In 1965, the Legislature raised the maximum millage rate to 3 mills

“One member shall be a physician” & "health care for the indigent"

In April 1972, the Legislature upped the number of Governor-appointed trustees to seven and also mandated that one member of the LSHA Board "shall be a physician engaged in the practice of medicine at the Lake Shore Hospital.” [emphasis by the Observer]

On June 17, 1990, the Legislature clarified the purpose of the Authority's tax levy on Columbia County citizens by adding that the tax, besides being used for the "maintenance and operation of the hospital," was now to be used “for providing health care for the indigent residents of Columbia County.”

The Big Re-Write

In 2005, the Legislature made an extensive rewrite of law controlling the Lake Shore Hospital Authority.

While public hearings were held, there is no record showing that any member of the public had a clue what was going on.

The Charter of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority was "recreated and reenacted," and "a body corporate and politic to be known as the Lake Shore Hospital Authority of Columbia County" was "created and established."

The Authority Board was maintained with seven members appointed by the Governor.

Also maintained as reiterated from earlier law is the following: “One member shall be a physician engaged in the practice of medicine at the Lake Shore Hospital.” [emphasis added by the Observer]

The purpose of the Authority was to “…maintain hospitals and hospital facilities in Columbia County.”

The Authority was also empowered to maintain and lease clinics and “other appurtenant facilities.”

The Authority was “to furnish temporary relief to the indigent of Columbia County and study the cause of their poverty.”

The Authority has never studied the cause of anybody’s poverty.

The Authority was also to pay for the burial of the County’s indigent dead.

Years ago, in a typical Columbia County good ole' boy deal, that part of the law was side-stepped.

Jackson P "Jack" Berry
Jack Berry ruled the LSHA for 13 years with an iron fist.

The law also made it so the Authority could hire an executive director. The Authority had not needed an executive director since its inception in 1947.

The purpose for the taxing authority of the Lake Shore Hospital Authority is unambiguously explained in the legislation "for the purpose of maintenance and operation of the hospital facilities and for providing health care for the indigent residents of Columbia County.”

At its peak, the Authority had an office manager that oversaw an indigent client base of over 1,000 clients and no executive director. The office manager worked from a small office before the Authority's Taj Mahal headquarters was built in a grand good ole' boy deal of County insiders.

The Early 2000s

After the infamous Republican leader and Repo-man Jackson P. "Jack" Berry took over the Authority, first as the chairman and then as its first executive director, the Authority went on a buying spree so strong-armed and outrageous that the Department of Justice was asked to come in and investigate.

They came in. The fruit of that investigation is unknown.

At least one present County Commissioner was involved in some of the property flipping that was going on at that time.

The Present

The current saga of the LSHA began in April 2018 when the Authority Board decided to replace the resigned Executive Director Jack Berry with a new version, a part-time director.

The final choice boiled down to two talented men. An outsider with education and experience in municipal management, current County Manager David Kraus, and the ultimate Columbia County insider and "Mr. Columbia County," the retired 33-year veteran Columbia County County Manager Dale Williams.

Everyone knew it would be no contest. Dale Williams received the nod.

A contract was worked out with now Part-Time Executive Director Williams. He would be part-time, not have to use a time clock, not have to explain in relevant detail how he spent his time, not have to explain with whom he spoke, or much of anything else.

Mr. Williams was to work a maximum of 28 hours a week at $49 hr.

After the Lake Shore Hospital Closed: Not a Sterling Record

In October 2020, the Lake Shore Hospital closed. Its client base was down to barely 100 clients.

Up and until March of 2021, not a two-week period went by that Mr. Williams didn't pull down a minimum of a thousand dollars a week for his part-time employment.

As of November 2021, the Authority client base is now 75, and 29 individuals visited the Authority’s Taj Mahal headquarters, which employs two people full time.

Executive Director Williams and Chairman Beil have not provided the public any rundown of the monthly costs to keep the Authority going.

Since October 2020, the cost to keep the vacated hospital and its other buildings and grounds maintained appear to have averaged over $100k a month.

Money: It Could Be Used for Indigent Care

In October 2020, the LSHA was sitting on a cash stash of $23,469,406.

As of December 30, 2021, the Authority has blown through $1,601,269 or $114,376 a month. The hospital was shuttered, and the Authority's other buildings were vacant.

Tonight, Executive Director Williams wants the LSHA Board and the public to ignore his lack of accomplishment and begin the process of looking for someone to occupy what he is now calling the “campus.”

Still No Board

The Lake Shore Hospital Authority still does not have a legally constituted board. The legislation passed by the Florida Legislature is unambiguous.

In April 1972, the Legislature upped the number of Governor-appointed trustees to seven and also mandated that one member of the LSHA Board "shall be a physician engaged in the practice of medicine at the Lake Shore Hospital.” [emphasis by the Observer]

Dale Williams told your reporter that the people at DEO said to him that a physician did not have to be on the Hospital Board.

He did not provide names, nor did he get anything in writing, telling your reporter, “They would not put that in writing.”

On November 9, 2021, Barbara Lemley met with Representative Chuck Brannon. She explained to him that the enabling legislation of the Authority required a physician engaged in the practice of medicine at the Lake Shore Hospital needed to be on the Authority Board.

Representative Brannon said he didn’t know that. “I will look into that,” he said.

Ms. Lemley has also advised Senator Bradley’s office of the Authority Board physician requirement, as well as the Governor’s appointment office, which so far has refused to respond to her.

Ms. Lemley has asked the LSHA Board to have its attorney, Fred Koberlein, Jr., request an opinion from the Attorney General. The purpose of the opinion is to answer the question: "to be a legally constituted board, is the Lake Shore Hospital Authority required a have a physician engaged in the practice of medicine at the Lake Shore Hospital on its board?"

Chairman Beil and the other board members have refused to act to request an opinion from the AG.

Authority Attorney Koberlein, who is a candidate for Circuit Court Judge, had remained silent, while his counterpart at the County, County Attorney Joel Foreman, who also has his eyes on a Circuit Court judgeship, has opined that a physician is not necessary to be on the Authority Board.

Established Law is Clear

Over 100 years ago, in 1918, the Florida Supremes in Van Pelt v. Hillard found it is a fundamental principle of statutory construction that where the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous, there is no occasion for judicial interpretation. “The Legislature must be understood to mean what it has plainly expressed….The Legislative intent being plainly expressed…that intent should prevail, for that, in fact, is the will of the Legislature."

Epilogue

It is time for the Governor to step in and stop this foolishness.

If he can find a “physician engaged in the practice of medicine at the Lake Shore Hospital," he should appoint that person.

If not, Representative Chuck Brannon needs to do his job and come up with a solution for an authority that has outlived its usefulness and legislation.

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