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Lake City Code Enforcement Special Magistrate: Springfield Law Gets the Unanimous Nod, Almost

Jennifer Springfield introduces herself and her husband Emory to the the Lake City, City Council.

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night in City Hall, the City Council held a work shop to interview Jennifer Springfield of Springfield Law for the position of Code Enforcement Special Magistrate.

Late in 2013, City Manager Wendell Johnson presented the idea of establishing a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate to hear Lake City code enforcement cases. The Special Magistrate would sit in place of the  community members of the Lake City Code Enforcement Board.

In January of 2014, the City put out a Request for Proposals for a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate. There was only one applicant, who withdrew because of a conflict of interest.

In 1980 the State of Florida created Chapter 162 of the Florida Statutes. This law took the enforcement of local ordinances out of the courts and had violations handled by local citizen boards who were members of the community. This law also allows for the creation of a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate, which enables the City to have code enforcement cases handled by a Special Magistrate who may not be a member of the community.

The RFP was put out again. This time there were two applicants from Gainesville. The finalist was Jennifer Springfield of Springfield Law, who in 2012 became the attorney for the ill-fated North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA).

Ms. Springfield was the NFBA attorney while it was sinking into debt and was so unresponsive to the member counties, including Columbia County, that many pulled out. During that time and to the present day, City Manager Johnson has demonstrably been a supporter of Attorney Springfield.

In her communication with Lake City, Ms. Springfield did not mention that she was and still is associated with the NFBA, a relationship that began amid much controversy in 2012.

Ms. Springfield is soft and well spoken. Her introduction to the City Council encompassed her thoughts in her letter to the City's evaluation committee:

I am thorough, thoughtful, and respectful in all of my work. I am very familiar with governmental clients and work especially well with difficult persons. My legal research and writing skills are excellent; please let me know if you would like to see a writing sample. I have drafted many orders similar to those required for local government code enforcement matters. My oral communication skills are very good, as well.

I understand the requirements of due process and evidentiary matters. I will be fair, unbiased and, initially, give all persons the benefit of the doubt. I have the utmost respect for the law.

One of Lake City's requirements for the Code Enforcement Special Magistrate was that the candidate be a "previous member of a code enforcement board or acted in the capacity of a special magistrate."

Ms. Springfield volunteered her husband's services when she could not attend. City Attorney Darby (rt) explained that the ordinance did not allow that.

Ms. Springfield did not meet that qualification.

Another requirement was, "experience with municipalities of similar size as Lake City."

Ms. Springfield did not appear to meet that requirement.

The Council asked only a handful of softball questions.

In the list of requirements for the position there was a statement that, "Preference will be placed on firms/individuals based out of Columbia County, Florida."

Throughout the whole process not one Council member asked City Manager Johnson why local firms weren't sent notices of the proposal.

At the conclusion of Ms. Springfield's question and answer session, City Manager Johnson spent a comparable amount of time explaining to the Council the theory of Lake City code enforcement.

Mayor Witt and Council members Jefferson, Moses, and Ward voted in favor of a future resolution hiring Ms. Springfield.

City Councilman Zack Paulk

Councilman Zack Paulk refused to speak when asked for his vote. He didn't explain and he didn't abstain. He just didn't speak.

His vote will be counted as a yes.

At the conclusion of the meeting your reporter asked Councilman Paulk the reason for his silence. His answer was a smile. 


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