Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Removal of Citizen Representation: City Manager Johnson Questioned

LAKE CITY, FL – It was not a surprise in City Hall on Monday night when Wendell Johnson moved to consolidate his power and eliminate citizen participation on the City Utility Advisory Committee. The Committee was whittled down to three City Council members, the City Manager, Assistant City Manager, the Director of Utilities, and his assistant. Among others eliminated from the committee was the Director of Public Works and the Committee's only private sector member, Walt Graham of Graham Electric. During the following Council meeting, newly appointed Vice Mayor, Melinda Moses, questioned the elimination of citizen input.

Towards the end of Monday's Utility Advisory Committee meeting, Utility Director Steve Roberts brought up the idea of eliminating almost half the committee membership. His proposal eliminated department directors of the utilities, as well as the Director of Public Works and long time Citizen Board Member, Walt Graham of Graham Electric.

The Lake City Utility Advisory Committee planned for the future in February 2014. Participation was not an issue.

Mr. Roberts' new proposal included three City Council members along with the City Manager (Johnson), the Assistant City Manager, and the Utilities Director and his assistant.

According to Mr. Roberts, this "would bring a new outlook and encourage creativity and innovation in board decisions."

As reported earlier, the County was not considered for membership, at least publically.

The Vote: citizen member votes "no"

Citizen Member, Walt Graham of Graham Electric

Mayor Witt asked for a motion to accept Director Roberts' reconfiguration of the Committee. When it became clear that no one was going to make a motion, Director Roberts made it himself.

Mayor Witt asked for a second. There was silence. Mr. Johnson's right-hand man, assistant City Manager, Grayson Cason, finally made the second.

The few members who attended the meeting all voted in favor except for long-standing citizen member, Walt Graham, who voted no.

The Director of Public Works, whose position on the Utility Committee was eliminated either by Johnson or with his approval, did not attend.

The Vice Mayor Speaks Out: "Not just all of us"

As Monday's City Council meeting wound down, Vice Mayor Moses voiced concern regarding the elimination of citizen input on the Utility Committee.

Ms. Moses said, "The point of committees was to have -- at least a voice -- from the outside. They can give us a different point of view... Not just all of us."

City Council member Eugene Jefferson, who 20 minutes earlier voted to eliminate citizen input and the others, had a change of heart and said, "I agree with that."

Mayor Witt added, "A lot of the support staff and department heads were taken off there."

Ms. Moses said, "We need to have somebody from the community."

CM Johnson: "A lot more conversation than we probably need."

City Manager Johnson weighed in with his thoughts on the Utility Advisory Committee:

"I’m not tryin’ to defend Steve or myself, but I’m sayin’ the logic behind the reorganization was not certain to eliminate anybody. Obviously, the division directors -- waste water treatment plant -- superintendent, etc. I don’t think we need that level of input... I've got nothing against Walt. We've never discussed him personally, but that's the Council discretion on how you want to do that. So that Wendell's not gonna to have any problem with that. Neither will Steve. But we do need to lower the number, because I think some time that -- ya know -- based on past meetings, excepting tonight, there was a lot more conversation than we probably need."

Mayor Witt concluded, "I'm glad you brought it up so we can be thinking about what to do."


On December 15, the City Council may make a decision regarding the make-up of the Utility Advisory Committee and decide if "there was a lot more conversation than "City Manager Johnson' probably need(s)."

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