Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

City Manager Johnson Looks for Council Approval to Anoint Special Code Enforcement Magistrate

LAKE CITY, FL – Buried in tonight's City Council agenda is an item that will affect any City resident given a City Code Citation. City Manager Wendell Johnson, without publishing a notice seeking applications for Code Enforcement Magistrate, is looking to anoint Lake City attorney, Richard E. Stadler, as Special Magistrate for Lake City's code enforcement needs. Mr. Stadler works for long time City Attorney, Herbert Darby, whose law firm is the City law firm. In some parts of the civilized word this might be considered a conflict. In Lake City/Columbia County, it is business as usual.

On October 21, 2013, City Manger Johnson brought his idea of hiring a Special Magistrate for City Code Enforcement to the City Council. He claimed, "A Special Magistrate will provide for a more meaningful due process and that a Magistrate would provide the most effective means for enhanced service and code compliance."

The City Manager has yet to give a significant explanation of how a Special Magistrate, "will provide for a more meaningful due process... "

According to the City Council minutes of October 21, the Council "concurred," but the minutes are silent on any discussion by either the City Manager or the Council members.

When Sarasota County needed a Special Magistrate for Code Enforcement, it advertised for the position.            ++ Click to enlarge

On December 16, 2013, the Council passed a City Ordinance establishing a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate. City Manager Johnson had the ordinance designed to keep the Code Enforcement Board and to empower the Code Enforcement Officer to determine whether the Code Enforcement Board or the Special Magistrate would hear code enforcement cases. It is not clear how that choice is made.


Lake City, a client of the firm: The appearance of impropriety

City Manager Johnson's suggested appointment of Special Magistrate is Richard E. Stadler. Mr. Stadler is clearly the number two attorney associated with the Law firm of Darby, Peele, Crapps, Green & Stadler LLP. Lake City is a client of the firm.

CM Johnson again playing fast and loose with City money

Last month, City Manager Johnson was not in tune with what the County was paying for its fire assessment study and had to go back to the drawing board. See: Better Late Than Never

Long time County Attorney Marlin Feagle bills Columbia County at $100.00 an hour. The LSHA pay its attorney $125 hr., also Mr. Feagle. Special Counsel for the Sheriff, Joel Foreman bills the Sheriff's Office $125 hr. Mr. Foreman is also Special Counsel for the Economic Development Advisory Board at a rate of $100 hr.

In City Manager Johnson's Report to the Council he does not mention the recommended rate of compensation for the Special Magistrate, other than to state: TBD - anticipated minimal increase in operational cost.

However, buried in the Agreement attached to the City Manager's Report, City Manager Johnson is recommending to the City Council an hourly rate for Mr. Stadler of $175 hr., a rate 40% more than either attorney representing Columbia County's interests.


The per capita income in Columbia County is $18,964 or $9.12 hr.

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