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Lake City

Johnson Backs Down Again: Outsourcing City Utility Division Workers Put on Hold Indefinitely

Learn more about why wastewater treatment is important.

LAKE CITY, FL – Last night in City Hall, City Manager Wendell Johnson backed down, again. In October, Mr. Johnson brought to the Utility Committee a proposal to privatize the operation of the City's wastewater treatment plant (sewer plant). Unhappy City workers came out in force. Mr. Johnson backed down and tabled sending out a Request for Proposals to privatize the City worker's jobs until last night, when the committee tabled the City Manager's proposal, again.

Before the meeting, a source, speaking under the condition of anonymity, told the Observer that Utility Division management had come up with "about $400,000 in savings." City Manager Johnson did not mention that at the meeting. Neither did any of the committee members, three of whom are City Councilmen.


    Wendell Johnson

City Manager Johnson, known not to be friendly to City workers, was apparently planning to privatize the Utility Division for years. (See October 19, 2015 article: City Manager Looking Into Gutting City Workers, Packed Utility Committee to Hear Last Minute Info)

The October 19 City Utility Committee meeting didn't go well for Mr. Johnson. Playing to a packed room of City workers and their family members and other interested City residents, City Manager Johnson found he had only one ally, Steve Roberts, the Utility Director, who announced that the Utility Division had gone through all its reserves. The Committee tabled the discussion and the Request for Proposals until last night. (See: City Manager Johnson Backs Down on Utility Outsourcing: City Workers Safe Through Christmas)

In a subsequent shake-up, Mr. Johnson removed Mr. Roberts as head of the City's Utilities.

Last Night: Johnson's Agenda Information Sheet – MIA

Last night began late Friday afternoon when Mr. Johnson released the City Utility Committee meeting agenda packet. Absent from the City's material was Mr. Johnson's trademark "Agenda Information Sheet," which gives the purpose of agenda items and the City Manager's recommendations.

Last night's discussion regarding the outsourcing of the Utility Division's labor was a one-man show, with Mr. Johnson doing all the talking.

Longtime City Councilman George Ward, chairman of the Utility Committee, kicked off the conversation, "We'll scoot into old business: water reclamation facility contract services discussion."

City Manager Johnson began (as spoken), "If you recall the motion was to table it until December 7 until this time for further consideration to give time for further assessment and review of the possibility, the potential, the benefit of contract operation of our wastewater reclamation program. We have done that."

Councilman Ward wasted no time. Without another word of explanation from the City Manager he asked for a motion to remove the outsourcing (privatization) from the table. The motion passed unanimously.

Then, Mr. Johnson continued, "When I came up with the concept, the possibility of contract operation, it was the one main purpose -- and that was the possibility of saving revenue and obviously when you do something like that, that's the overriding objective."

"What I have found last month ... I did some further investigation -- research of my own... what I've come up with is that contract operation of our facility would not be a viable for the City because with unknown data of the cost of operation of the new plant; unknown data of the operation of an existing plant -- what I've determined and discovered through further review is that it would be beneficial to the City and its reclamation system is to let it go until operation of the new plant -- let it go into full operation at least for one year -- that the older plant have one year to adjust and then you've got viable financial data upon which to make an assessment. You can have a clear understanding of what you'll be asking someone to do should you then ask for contract operations. They would know what you're doing now and then from that what they would do, if anything, to provide a cost savings advantage."

The Backtrack

Mr. Johnson continued, "So, that's the position I have tonight... Sometimes we base our decision on, form an opinion of an objective or an option and then later on we discover that we had some additional information to be considered. And that's what's happened in this case..."

Mr. Johnson concluded, "My recommendation for tonight is to suspend for the time being any effort to move forward with contract operation. Maybe a year or so from now after the plant's been in operation -- we come back and take a look at it then."


The Committee had acted on City Manager Johnson's recommendation before he made it.

With elections coming up in November, the City's sudden change of heart to not eliminate City workers was not unexpected.

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