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Lake City News

Council Overlooks City Manager Wendell Johnson's Slight of All County Residents

Councilman Ward: Next time I'll nix it

CM Johnson did not admit to scheduling the conflict.

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night, the City Council overlooked last week's slight of all Columbia County residents by City Manager Wendell Johnson when he scheduled a   special City Utility Committee meeting at the same time as the regularly scheduled County Commission meeting. Last week's Utility Committee meeting was one of the most important City Utility Committee meetings in recent times. The Committee recommended spending $15mil on wastewater, which will in great measure determine economic development in Lake City, the Designated Urban Development Area, and major areas of Columbia County for decades.

Since 2006, Lake City had been making plans to expand its old and under-capacity wastewater treatment system. Late last year the City put on hold its wastewater treatment plans.

In the third quarter of 2010, the City floated an $18mil Build America utility bond issue for a new wastewater treatment plant and wastewater projects. The interest payments for these bonds are subsidized by the U.S. Treasury.

In documents presented to the City Council last night, City Manager Johnson classified last Thursday's special meeting of the Utility Committee as a "regular meeting on January 16, 2014." It wasn't.

According to CM Johnson's Report to the Council, the Committee recommended proceeding with a 1.5 million gallon per day wastewater treatment plant and main reroute at a cost of $15mil plus.

The City Manager said that the source of the funds was the $15mil in bond money and Utility Reserve Funds.

CM Johnson did not give a breakdown of how $3mil of the $18mil of utility bond money was spent and the reasons the utility reserves may have to be tapped. According to figures presented to the Council in August 2008, it cost the City $734,262 to finance the bonds.

CM Johnson's Concurrent Scheduling: Rude to all residents

City residents pay the bulk of their taxes to Columbia County. Any City or County resident who wanted to attend the bi monthly County Commission meeting could not have attended the City Utility Committee meeting.

While no one would go on the record and say who scheduled the Utility Committee meeting at the same time as the County Commission meeting, everyone pointed the finger at City Manager Wendell Johnson.

Last night, when your reporter asked the City Council who scheduled the meeting, Mayor Witt responded, "I'm not exactly sure how it got scheduled."

City Manager Johnson did not volunteer that he scheduled the meeting.

After the meeting, long time City Councilman and Utility Committee Chairman, George Ward, told the Observer, "If they schedule a meeting again on a Thursday, at the same time as the County Commission, I'll nix it."

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