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Lake City News

Fred Koberlein, Jr., Lake City's City Attorney, Survives Vote of No-Confidence, 3-2  

Photo of Lake City Attorney Fred Koberlein with copy: City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., Listens to the no-confidence vote.
Columbia County Observer photo and graphic.

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night's City Council meeting had a surprise ending when Councilman Jake Hill moved to terminate controversial City Attorney Fred Koberlein's contract with Lake City.

Background: 2016
Fred Koberlein, Jr., hired under murky circumstances

On October 31, 2016, Fred Koberlein, Jr., interviewed to fill the City Attorney spot of retiring Florida legend, City Attorney Herbert Darby. Attorney Koberlein's closed interview was sham with barely a word of his being audible. Of the three law firms interviewed to fill the spot, only Fred Koberlein, Jr., wanted closed interviews. Getting the score sheets of the interviews was also problematic. See: City Attorney Slot Goes to Koberlein, Councilman Elect Hill Ignored, Public Records Issue

On September 19, 2016, the City Council, with the clear knowledge that their interviews had violated the Florida statutes, executed a contract with Mr. Koberlein. See:  City Attorney Interviews – Flatlined – Completely Inaudible: City Violates Statute

There was controversy from the beginning with Fred Koberlein, Jr. He was already representing the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, which was down the road from City Hall. The two did business.

Then Councilman George Ward said, "We will give him that option, I would think, to decide which one he wants to stay on."

Mayor Witt added, "He may have a conflict with both." See: New City Attorney Fred Koberlein: What Did He Say? Mayor Steve Witt: We Will Get a Transcript

Throughout his years representing the City, Mr. Koberlein was often difficult or impossible to understand (a violation of the Sunshine law), seemed unprepared, was a hold up in getting documents ready for the agenda, and sources advised that he lobbied some City Councilman and ignored others.

Mr. Koberlein's relationship with the Council:
He serves at their pleasure

Lake City Councilman Jake Hill makes his no-confidence motion.
Councilman Jake Hill makes his no-confidence motion.

Mr. Koberlein is one of three people who is hired by the City Council, the other two being the City Manager and the City Clerk.

Mr. Koberlein was just an at-will independent contractor until the last election, when after a circuitous backroom route with the City Manager, a charter amendment made him a Charter Officer. None-the-less, his contract continues his classification as an at-will contractor.

In order to keep Council members from being charged with character assassination, or having to come up with controversial lists of wrong doing, and possible law suits, the language in Mr. Koberlein's contract makes it simple: "Either party may terminate this Agreement upon giving sixty (60) days’ written notice to the other party, which notice shall include the effective date of termination."

Both Councilman Hill and Councilman Sampson gave Mr. Koberlein the respect required by his contract and did not air any dirty laundry. Councilman Jefferson had a different view.

Councilman Hill Makes His Motion

Two hours into the meeting, after all the other Council business was concluded, Mr. Hill made his motion.

"I want to talk about our City Attorney.  For the past months, I've been dissatisfied with Mr. Koberlein, with his performance towards the City. With that being said, I don't want to call out any issues that I've had with him, but I've had some issues with him. I want to make a motion that the City terminate his contract."

Mayor Witt, caught by surprise, did not ask for a second. He said, "Anybody else?"

There was silence.

A short while later Mr. Sampson said, "I'd like to second that motion."

An unidentified person said, "You have a motion and a second."

Mr. Sampson said, "Call the question."

Lake City Councilman Eugene Jefferson had is own thoughts.
Councilman Eugene Jefferson had is own thoughts.

Mayor Witt had some comments, but he could not be understood from a few feet away, although he did say something about putting the item on the agenda. Then he said, "Ms. Sikes, would you call the role."

Mr. Hill and Mr. Sampson voted to give City Attorney Koberlein his notice. Mr. Jefferson, Mr. Green and Mayor Witt voted "no."

After the vote, Councilman Jefferson had a different twist on the situation. He said, "I'm in the position where if you ask me to terminate somebody, I need some substance. I don't have that. So I think it would be an injustice for me to vote to terminate him without evidence and substance to support that... At this point, I don't have that. That is the basis for my vote."

Fred Koberlein Couldn't Leave Well Enough Alone
Comes Down on Hill, Ignores Sampson

Attorney Koberlein felt the need to single out Councilman Hill, defending himself at the same time.

Attorney Koberlein checking his phone after the vote.
Attorney Koberlein checking his phone after the vote.

Mr. Koberlein said, "I too don't have any substance having discussed any complaints or issues with the council members. I looked back at texts with Mr. Hill since August 8th. I don't have any indications or correspondence or any personal in person discussions."

Then Mr. Koberlein did what he always does, mentions that he will meet with each one separately.

Mr. Koberlein continued, "So, I will address each of the gentlemen individually and ask them for their feedback. Hopefully, we can have a constructive conversation and do what's in the best interest of the citizens and have another discussion."

After the meeting, Mr. Koberlein walked up to Mr. Sampson with a yellow pad and could be seen taking some notes.


Lake City Councilman Todd Sampson listens to Councilman Green.
Councilman Todd Sampson listens to Councilman Green.

This morning, your reporter spoke with Councilman Todd Sampson about his vote of no-confidence and the private powwow he had when Attorney Koberlein walked up to him at the end of the meeting.

Mr. Sampson said, "One of the things I said to him was that I was concerned about the recent City Charter Amendment concerning the City Attorney. Mr. Koberlein said he would put something together and he would meet with me."

Mr. Sampson continued, "I have given this some thought. When Mr. Koberlein tells me he has his information together, I will ask the Clerk to put it on the agenda and he can present it in the Sunshine."

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