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Lake City News

City Council Falls Into Line: Joins County 5 In Gift of Public Funds to Chamber for Retail Study

Chamber President Joel Foreman makes his pitch. Mr. Foreman is also conflict council for the County Commission and attorney for the Economic Development Advisory Board.

LAKE CITY, FL –  With elections a year and a half away, the City Council fell into line with the County 5 and contributed their unfair share to the $80,000 gift to the Chamber of Commerce for a retail study with the Alabama Company, Retail Strategies, already under contract with the Chamber. Chamber President Joel Foreman told the City Council that all the information will not be available to the Council or the County. Wendell Johnson said, "If it worked in Alabama, I don't see why it won't work in Florida." Councilwoman Melinda Moses said she felt the Chamber of Commerce would be "looking out for us."

Background: "I never heard nothin else out of em'"

Last month the Observer asked County Economic Development Director Jesse Quillen how the Alabama firm found its way to Columbia County, "I think it was Jeff Simmons who met those folks at a meeting somewhere and introduced them to the Chamber. The Chamber's met with them two or three times. That's the extent of my knowledge on it."

The matter, which the County 5 agreed to fully fund, never came up for a recommendation at the County's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB), which is overseen by the County's Economic Development Director Quillen. Mr. Quillen told the Observer, "Did the EDAB make a recommendation to approve it? No, absolutely not."

Mr. Quillen continued that he knew enough about the project that the Chamber was looking for government funding and Mr. Foreman was working on that. "I never heard nothin else out of em'," he said.

Last Night

Attorney Forman told the City Council, "The Chamber of Commerce was approached several months ago. Mr. Quillen, Economic Development Director for Columbia County, had identified a resource that he believed to be a benefit to both the County and the City. He had some conversations with Mr. Johnson."

Columbia County/Lake City is a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC).

Government Service Group (GSG) explained the elements of a RACEC this way:

• they are areas of persistent poverty
• lowest educational achievement
• they have low household income and depressed economic activity
• high unemployment/underemployment
• lack of business competitiveness
• have a difficulty in attracting new business/jobs.

Mr. Foreman said, "The Chamber was approached about bringing in folks to do a comprehensive retail study."

Mr. Foreman told the Council that business didn't understand that people came from other places to shop in Lake City. "When people were looking at Columbia County they weren't getting the full picture."

Mr. Foreman said about the Alabama firm, "They are going to do more in-depth research. They're going to do Mosaic profiling. They are going to figure out what sorts of consumers we have here."

Councilwoman Moses, apparently forgetting the $100,000 that the City recently spent for a CRA Master Plan, which included the downtown, asked, "They could do the study and come in and tell us what avenues we need to go with downtown?"

Mr. Foreman replied, "Potentially. They are not going to pinpoint. They are going to inventory our possibilities."

Under City Manager Wendell Johnson, the Lake City downtown area has gone nowhere. The latest downtown abandonment was CARC, which is directed by County Commissioner Stephen Bailey.

Attorney Foreman listens to City Manager Johnson before the vote.

City Manager Johnson brought up the Rudder Team, a project funded a few years ago at about $60,000. He said that was a Florida Company that did that.

Nothing came of the Rudder team endeavors. The County 5 squandered that money. Part of the study was an economic plan.

CM Johnson said, "I spoke with Jessie about developing the economic plan for the County. I believe his recruiting a company like this is something that has never really been done. If it worked in Alabama, I don't see why it won't work in Florida."


Chamber of Commerce Will Have Total Control

Left to right, Councilmen Paulk and Ward listen to Mr. Foreman before rubberstamping the vote. The legendary City Attorney Herbert Darby listened to Mr. Foreman without saying one word.

Councilwoman Moses said, "I feel very comfortable with the Chamber doing it. I feel you would be fair and looking out for us."

The Chamber, with their gift of public money, will be handling the study and have total control of the process and the access to the information. "The administration will be handled within the Chamber as a benefit to our members," said Mr. Foreman.


No one on the Council batted an eye or asked any questions.

Mr. Foreman said there was no company in Florida that could do what the Alabama firm could do: a study and then promote Columbia County/Lake City throughout the land at conventions, along with their other clients. The promoting will cost $40,000.

They will promote what the Chamber wants them to promote.

With its gift of public funds, the Chamber will pick and chose what information will be available to the public, while its membership has full access, funded by the general funds of both the County and the City. The Chamber is running the program.

Welcome to Columbia County/Lake City. The legend lives. 

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