Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Who Is the Boss – City Attorney or City Manager? City Council Decides Tonight: 'To pay or not to pay'

City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr. and City Manager Joe Helfenberger

LAKE CITY, FL – Tonight, the City Council will decide who is calling the shots when it comes to paying a $54k road paving bill: City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., who has advised the City not to pay; or City Manager Joe Helfenberger, who advised, "The work was well done...The right thing to do is to pay the bill."

City Charter: Job Descriptions

The City Attorney is hired by the City Council, as is the City Manager. The City Charter describes the respective duties.

Sixty-six words describe the City Attorney's duties. The City Attorney is the legal advisor to the City "in matters relating to their official duties." "The city attorney shall [must] approve all contracts of the municipality" before they become effective.

The City Manager's duties are also explained in the City-Charter, in 331 words. "The city manager shall be the chief administrative officer of the city. He shall be responsible to the council for the administration of all city affairs placed in his charge by or under this Charter."

The City Manager is in charge of all City employees, departments, agencies and must attend all Council meetings. He prepares the budget.

The City Manager "shall make such recommendations to the council concerning the affairs of the city as he deems desirable."

July 15, 2019, Attorney Koberlein Defines His Role

In a July 15, 2019, correspondence to the City Manager, Mr. Koberlein, Jr., defined his duties as he sees them. "Keepin you, and the City Council informed is an obligation of the attorney, not merely a privilege."

He continued, "Within the past three month [sic] several City contracts or agreements have been brought to my attention that are questionable... All of the issues brought to my attention, may have been totally consistent with the City Code and Procedural Manual. I am not saying that any of the following are or were illegal; I am suggesting that they are questionable."

Mr. Koberlein goes on to pontificate about various issues regarding procurement, department heads, innuendos regarding "improper action", training, and all sorts of stuff, which appear to be a treatise on how the City Manager is running the City.

Lake City Public Works Director Thomas Henry
Public Works Director Thomas Henry listens to the proceedings during the November 4, 2019, City Council discussion on the road paving bill.

City Agendas: Held up by the City Attorney

Ever since City Manager Helfenberger has come on board as the Lake City City Manager, agenda preparation has been hindered by the lack of timeliness of the Koberlein law firm.

This issue also confronted former City Manager, Wendell Johnson.

The Observer has also learned that oftentimes opinions requested by the City Manager have not been timely and on occasion opinions have been requested from other attorneys due to Koberlein delay.

City Council: Divided

The City Council membership appears to be aware of the issues surrounding the Koberlein law firm. It is not clear how much lobbying is going on by City Attorney Koberlein and Mr. Koberlein would not answer when asked if he was lobbying the City Council members.

There are Council members that would like to get rid of Koberlein, feel under or not represented, or just plain ignore the missteps by Koberlein.

The Council seems to be at a 3-2 impasse to keep Koberlein as the City Attorney, with Mayor Witt as the swing vote.


On October 17, 2019, City Attorney Koberlein, quoting some questionable law, and on what appeared to be a vendetta, wrote that the City Council should not pay Curt's Construction for a City paving job.

The job to pave portions of City streets was the lowest quote, and a job that City Manager Helfenberger wrote was "done well."

Both the City Manager and City Attorney pointed out that the City Procurement Manual was not followed, a fact that no one has denied

Tonight, the City Council will decide whether to pay for paving City streets, the Helfenberger position, or not to pay for the paving of City streets, the Koberlein position.

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