Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Lake City News

Lake City Finally Gets Its Agenda Act Together:  City Clerk Takes Over, Sets the Rules & Deadlines

City Clerk Audrey Sikes and City Manager Joe Helfenberger with copy:  City Manager Helfenberger hands over agenda reins to City Clerk Audrey Sikes
Columbia County Observer photos and graphic.

LAKE CITY, FL – Yesterday, City Clerk Audrey Sikes broke a Lake City tradition of decades of 'last minute' government and got the City agenda posted to the City's website a week before the next City Council meeting.

Background: A Lake City tradition begun decades ago

In a tradition begun decades ago, Lake City was in the habit of producing its City agendas at the 12th hour, many times posting agendas after 5 pm on Fridays for its Monday City Council meetings.

It was often clear that the Council members didn't have time to read the material they approved during City Council meetings.

At other times, material was intentionally left off the agendas until just before Council meetings were gaveled to order. The grandest example of this was the final contracts for the Blanche project. No one had a chance to read the ream of contracts which put the City in the hole for millions.

During the reign of City Manager Wendell Johnson, he mentioned on a few occasions that he would be able to prepare agendas a week in advance.

Then City Councilwoman Melinda Moses said it wasn't necessary. The Council's herd mentality had the rest of its members going along to the Council and public detriment.

A little over two years ago, when current City Manager Joe Helfenberger took over the City's reins, he recognized the problem of last-minute agendas, tried to correct the problem, and couldn't.

Members of the public complained, and he promised to have material available a week in advance.

At times, City Manager Helfenberger would get close, but he never hit the mark. A large obstacle was the City Attorney, Fred Koberlein, Jr., whose 12th-hour document production was a detriment to timeliness and good government.


Two years ago, Lake City contracted with Municode, purchasing an agenda module supposed to make agenda preparation easier and timely.

Todd Sampson, Lake City, City Councilman
After being elected, Todd Sampson worked behind the scenes to ramp up timely agenda publication.

It didn't. Nobody used it. Agenda preparation was done the same old way through the City Manager's Office and transmitted to the Clerk to distribute.

Timeliness depended on the City Manager setting deadlines, many times deadlines which the City Manager could not meet.

During the last election cycle, City Council candidate Todd Sampson told this reporter that he couldn't understand how the City could operate with its short notice agendas.

Change Was 'Sort of' on the Way

With agenda preparation, a continuing 12th-hour disaster, City Manager Helfenberger acted, although hardly anybody knew it.

Yesterday, City Clerk Audrey Sikes told your reporter, "During the budget cycle, Mr. Helfenberger said he wanted me to take over the agenda process as of October 1."

Ms. Sikes continued, "I said, 'Absolutely, it should be in my office.'"

Ms. Sikes said she had to get enough training under her belt to learn the new system. She met with the City Manager's Office and the City Attorney giving them her proposal to get the agenda out on Tuesday.

A few weeks ago, the Clerk sent out a spreadsheet to the City's department directors, the City Manager, and the City Attorney with hard deadlines.

She said, "This is what it's going to be."

Your reporter asked, "If stuff is missing, it's on them, not you?

Ms. Sikes replied, "Right."

Your reporter asked, "Now that you're in charge of the preparation and distribution of the agenda, it will be out on time?"

Ms. Sikes didn't miss a beat, "Yeah."

City Manager Helfenberger Supports the Clerk

Yesterday afternoon, your reporter followed up with City Manager Helfenberger. There was already an issue.

Engineer Jamie Bell of Jones Edmunds was scheduled to give a presentation this coming Monday evening. The presentation was not ready for distribution with the agenda.

According to Ms. Bell, City Manager Helfenberger knew the presentation would not be ready and told her not to worry about it.

Your reporter asked, "So, what's the point of a deadline?"

City Manager Helfenberger said, "She could do her presentation without a PowerPoint."

Your reporter followed up, "This is a little confusing. If the information is not in the Clerk's Office by noon on Monday [the deadline], it doesn't look like you're getting it on the agenda. Is that right?"

City Manager Helfenberger answered, "That is the case."

He continued, "I understand there may be a few bugs while we all get used to this. Everybody is aware of the deadlines, and everybody has to meet them. Everyone will have to do their part. I am 100% behind the deadlines set by the City Clerk."


The December 7, City Council agenda packet can be found on the City website. It was posted yesterday afternoon, on time.

Look for the agenda widget on the home page. It will take you here.

Comments  (to add a comment go here

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.