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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

City Docket Tonight, 6 pm: Affirmative Action, Nepotism, Meeting Rules, Diversity

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LAKE CITY, FL – A few weeks ago, City Councilman Jake Hill said that City Hall is and has been referred to as the "White House." He was not explaining the color of the building, but the color of its occupants and employees throughout the City. The City Council is looking inward this evening.

The Main Players

Mayor Steve WittMayor Steve Witt:  The only popularly elected City wide official. Mayor Witt historically has been an advocate of open government and public participation. He has been receptive to the recent criticism and demands of the public, although not quick enough for some.

Council persons: Green, Hill, Jefferson, Moses (alphabetically)

Councilman Chris GreeneChris Greene: The new guy, elected in 2018 for the first time. Still learning the ropes. Not a friend of expanded public participation at meetings. Gives reverence to City attorney, Fred Koberlein, Jr., who is not a friend of the people.

Councilman Jake HillJake Hill: Knows first-hand about the effects of racism, the over restrictive City nepotism  policy, and learned shortly after being elected the first time in 2008 about the institutional racism in the leadership of Mark Hunter's Sheriff's Office.

Councilman Eugene JeffersonEugene Jefferson: 20yr City Councilman. Articulate and well spoken when he speaks loud enough to be heard, which is rarely. He studies the issues. Some folks have complained that he is not responsive to the needs of the minority community. He is a person to watch this evening.

Councilwoman Melinda MosesMelinda Moses: Background: educator – principal – Columbia County School District. First elected in 2008, recently Ms. Moses seemed to have no idea about the policies of the City and duties of a Councilperson. Always cheery and a promoter of Lake City, her thoughts on affirmative action and nepotism should be interesting to hear.

City Manager Joe HelfenbergerCity Manager Joe Helfenberger: Unflappable – "Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'." Mr. Helfenberger is saddled with a historical City Council blind eye to the gut issues of affirmative action and nepotism. The City Council will ultimately determine the direction of Mr. Helfenberger.

Others to Watch

City Attorney Fred KoberleinCity Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.:  Mr. Koberlein was selected by the Council to be the City Attorney in September 2016. While not necessary, he elected to have his interview held in a closed session, which was recorded and mostly unintelligible. Many times Mr. Koberlein is barely intelligible.

Community Activist Vanessa GeorgeVanessa George:  Recently lost to Eugene Jefferson in a squeaker. She is articulate and has the heart of a lion. Recently, she has been outspoken in pressing the City Council for changes in the City's Affirmative Action Policy.

On the Docket

Nepotism Policy

The City has one of the most restrictive nepotism policies in Florida, a policy which precludes any relative of a Council member from working at the City. This is an easy fix to bring the City in line with other municipal policies which are well thought out and allow Council member relatives to be treated just like every other hire in the City, as Council members are not their direct boss.

Affirmative Action

The City's Affirmative Action Plan dates back to 2006. Affirmative action has not been a high priority for Lake City. It appears this will change shortly.

Yesterday, Mr. Helfenberger in a text wrote: "I will pursue an immediate update of the plan."

City Council – City Staff Interaction

This is a sticky wicket in most municipalities. Interactions are policy driven. The Council sets the policy, the City Manager enforces it. Council members will give their opinions tonight.

Public Participation & Meeting Rules

In 2013, after the passage of what became known of SB50, former City Attorney Herbert Darby devised a new City policy which complied with the new law. While it appears that the rules need to be tweaked to suit the present City Council, the policy is strong and complaint.

The issues in the policy that need to be addressed are: agenda preparation deadlines; agenda dissemination; time limits for speakers, both Council members and members from the public.


It has been noted by visitors to City Council meetings that Mayor Witt allows everyone to have their say.

All through the contentious times at recent meetings, Mayor Witt has not wavered in giving all the opportunity to speak.

A point of confusion lately has been the public's right to comment on agenda items. This is covered in the rules and gives the Mayor the authority to allow or deny comment as the items come up for discussion.

For those that believe in participatory democracy, this is one to keep your eye on. Some members of the City Council have not been in favor of this. Tonight, they may explain why.

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