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Fred Koberlein, Jr., Lake City's City Attorney: His Last Performance Was Cause for Concern

Photo of Fred Koberlein, Jr., with copy: City Attorney Fred Koberlein, he left the city council in the lurch

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – A week ago Monday, Fred Koberlein, Jr., Lake City's City Attorney, survived a vote of no confidence. A "closer look" shows Attorney Koberlein came up short across the board.

December 7th: a bad day for City Attorney Fred Koberlein

As last week's December 7 City Council meeting wound down, City Councilman Jake Hill moved to terminate controversial City Attorney Fred Koberlein's contract with Lake City. Councilman Hill said he was "dissatisfied with Mr. Koberlein, with his performance towards the City."

The language in Mr. Koberlein's contract keeps a no-confidence vote from being a public blood-letting: "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."

City Councilman Todd Sampson seconded the motion. See: Fred Koberlein, Jr., Lake City's City Attorney, Survives Vote of No-Confidence, 3-2

The December 7th City Council Meeting: A "Closer Look"

Two new ordinances, concerned with utility issues, Ordinance 2020-2174 and 2020-2175, were postponed. The cause: they first were required to be vetted by the City Utility Committee.

Enacted in 2011, City Ordinance 2011-2011 requires all utility issues to be vetted by the City's Utility Committee. According to the ordinance, the recommendations of the Utility Committee "must be submitted in writing to the City Council." This ordinance has been on the books for almost a decade. Attorney Koberlein has been the City Attorney since 2016.

The Monday night ordinances dealt with the waiving of impact fees, which are meant to offset the financial impact of new development on water, sewer, and other services. Water and sewer are utilities.

Lake City, City Councilman Chris Greene
Councilman Chris Greene alerted the City Council that it was not following the City ordinance.

When Ordinance 2020-2174 came up on Monday's agenda, Councilman Greene mentioned his concerns regarding the City's Utility Committee's lack of vetting the utility issues.

Councilman Greene said, "I think that we have to follow the ordinance that we passed in 2011. I would make a motion to table it unless the City Attorney had a different take."

City Attorney Koberlein weighed in, "There is a big difference between rates, charges, and fees... I'm not comfortable going forward without reading the ordinance that Councilman Greene cited to."

City Clerk Audrey Sikes had included the relevant parts of the ordinance in the agenda material. It was at Mr. Koberlein's fingertips.

Also, the City agendas are reviewed in advance in a high-level meeting, including the City Manager, the City Attorney, and the City Clerk. After over two years of delay, the City's agendas are now prepared and distributed by the City Clerk a week in advance of the meetings. This agenda was available a week in advance. See: Lake City Finally Gets Its Agenda Act Together:  City Clerk Takes Over, Sets the Rules & Deadlines

Councilman Greene said, "After hearing the attorney's explanation, I would make a motion to postpone this item to the next City Council meeting."

The motion passed unanimously.

Instant Replay, With a Long Silence

City Clerk Audrey Sikes during the December 7 City Council meeting
City Clerk Audrey Sikes included the committee ordinance with the agenda material. It wasn't clear if the City Attorney Koberlein had read it.

City Ordinance 2020-2175 also concerned impact fees and utilities. Mr. Koberlein read the ordinance.

When he concluded, he made no recommendation.

There was a long silence without a motion to approve.

Finally, Councilman Greene said, "We find ourselves in the same predicament as the previous ordinance.

Ordinance 2175 was also postponed to the next meeting.

More Trouble

Ordinances weren't the only things with which City Attorney Koberlein was having trouble.

Resolution 2020-142 concerned the conveyance of an easement.

Normally, this would be a simple matter.

Attorney Koberlein read the resolution's title into the record, intentionally changing the dimension of the easement from "48.75 feet" to "48.75 square feet." He gave no explanation, but Councilman Sampson caught the switch.

Councilman Sampson asked for a clarification, "The resolution just says feet," he said. Mr. Sampson asked Mr. Koberlein if he meant "square feet."

He didn't.

Attorney Koberlein explained, "The resolution does say feet. I wanted to make sure that we understood that's not 48.75 width and length, and so there was an omission of the square there. The survey is attached, I believe."

It wasn't. Mr. Koberlein paused to look at the resolution.

He noted that the "square feet" was in the legal description.

The legal description describing the easement size said, "containing 48.75 square feet, more or less," which should have been in the resolution title which he read.

Mr. Koberlein did not explain how anyone would have been confused by the phrase, "containing 48.75 square feet, more or less."

The City Charter: Mr. Koberlein missed this, also.

A few months ago, the City had its Charter Review. Attorney Koberlein appointed himself the attorney for the Charter Review Board, and he reviewed the City Charter line by line with the Board.

The December 7 meeting of the City Council was also Organization Night, which is when the vice-mayor is determined, and committee appointments are made.

The City Charter explains the selection of the vice-mayor: "At the first council meeting after each regular city election and annually thereafter, the council shall elect one of its members as vice-mayor."

Mayor Witt appointed Councilman Greene as vice-mayor without one word from City Attorney Koberlein about the Charter requirement of the election of the vice-mayor. This will need a do-over.

Committee Appointments: Another Miss By the City Attorney

Mayor Witt introduced his committee appointments:

"Next is the committee appointments. I made them quickly and didn't review the statute properly, and I re-did that... I think the most important committee we have right now is the utility committee, and I wanted to get it going. We've recognized tonight the faults that we've not been as active as we should have. We need to run a lot of things through that committee before they come here... What we've been doing here tonight, we should have been doing at a committee meeting. I wanted to get the utility committee going immediately..."

Councilman Greene followed up, "Mr. Mayor, I agree. We cannot delay the Utility Committee. It's too important, and I think we need to move forward with that tonight. I would like to get a Utility Committee meeting scheduled very quickly..."

Mayor Witt was trying to get the City on track. Legal missteps had him hobbled.

Mayor Witt said, "I want us to do it right, but I want us to do it quickly."

The City Clerk said that the Council could accept the committee appointments for the Utility Committee as presented.

City Manager Helfenberger followed up, "That way, we can get the meeting scheduled."

There was a motion and second to accept all the committee appointments.

This was also a big foul-up, which was about to be discovered the next day.

The December 7 meeting continued.

City Manager Helfenberger. After all the talk about doing things right, he makes a play to bypass the Utility Committee. 

As the agenda drew down, City Manager Helfenberger asked the City Council to approve financing a utility study that evening, even though the Utility Committee had not vetted it.

Councilman Greene told the City Manager, "We have to go through the Utility Committee. It's not an option."

Mr. Helfenberger responded, "We'll bring this to the committee and go from there."

Utility Committee Meeting Scheduled

Mayor Witt said he wanted to discuss holding a Utility Committee meeting.

Councilman Greene, who has been paying attention to the coronavirus pandemic, said, "I'm fine to do it virtually... I could do it Monday... We could do a Utility Committee meeting Monday."

Mayor Witt said, 'That would be good. Monday night is a week out."

Councilman Green said, "Monday would be perfect."

City Manager Helfenberger and the City Attorney were both flying by the seat of their pants.

City Manager Helfenberger, seated next to City Attorney Koberlein, followed up, "That sounds good. I'll get with Councilmember Greene to coordinate all that.

At noon, the day after the meeting, the City Clerk sent an ad to the local newspaper advertising Monday's Utility Committee meeting. Within the hour, the newspaper was called, canceling the meeting announcement.

The public, City Council members, and your reporter were unaware that the meeting had been canceled.

City Attorney Koberlein Missed Another One – A Big One

The ordinance controlling committee appointments, Ordinance No. 2011-2011, requires that Utility Committee members are appointed and "approved by resolution of the City Council."

They weren't. The Monday night appointments were not done by resolution  and a legally constituted committee did not exist; thus – the utility meeting was canceled.


It would have been simple to draw up a resolution at the meeting memorializing the appointments to the committee – if City Attorney Koberlein had thought of it, or if he had read the ordinance, which the City Clerk included with the agenda material.

If Attorney Koberlein knew about the oversight, he didn't say anything

City Manager Helfenberger ignored three text messages over the weekend through Monday.

He was not talking.

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