Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City Going Virtual Monday Night in an Effort to Take Care of Business & Keep the Public Safe

Lake City IT Director Mandy Rand
Photos: digital photos of the City virtual meeting.

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Despite confusion and disarray using the WebEx virtual platform and no toll free number, Lake City continues to give it its best shot and is planning 2 virtual meetings on Monday night.

Unlike the Columbia County 5, City Mayor Steve Witt continues to move forward in the virtual world making safety his top priority.

Mayor Witt told the Observer, "The City must continue to operate and we can do that by having virtual meetings, while allowing the public access to comment and ask questions with a call-in line."

Mayor Witt has left the logistics up to City Manager Joe Helfenberger.

The last couple of City virtual meetings have been shaky, but the City persists and keeps trying.

City Manager Helfenberger: researching and moving forward

City Manager Joe Helfenberger, along with the Mayor and City Council, believes public participation is a key ingredient in local government.

On April 2, while talking about the virtual world, Mr. Helfenberger told your reporter, "If we can get more public participation, that's a good thing."

The City is working on toll free calling and should have that problem solved in the near future. Mr. Helfenberger said, "You shouldn't have to pay money to participate in your own government."

Talking about safety in City Hall, Mr. Helfenberger said, "City Hall is cut off from the public. It may be safer than some people's homes."

On April 9, your reporter spoke with Mr. Helfenberger again. He explained the issues at the April 6 virtual meeting, "It's new to all of us... There were problems. We are looking at other platforms. WebEx is too hard to control."

Among all his other duties, Mr. Helfenberger was doing some serious research. He said he would report back his findings.

Zoom CEO and founder Eric Yuan
Zoom CEO Eric Yuan
Learn more about Zoom:
Here & • Here

The City of Ocala and Alachua County are using Zoom and their meetings are going off without any apparent hitches, zoom bombs, or people exposing themselves. The Zoom platform is popular and easy to use.

By the end of business, your reporter heard back from Mr. Helfenberger. The decision was made. Mr. Helfenberger explained that after its "next couple of meetings," (read Monday night), which will stay with WebEx because of various notice requirements, the City will be Zooming into the virtual future.

The April 16 meeting of the City Canvassing Board got off the ground with the usual glitches, including a new one, which had Mayor Witt's video disappear right at the beginning of the meeting. He soldiered through.

While the Mayor and City Council members manage to appear via video, although they need some help setting up their framing, which is entirely too close-up, it is not clear why the City Attorney, Fred Koberlein, Jr., is unable to get his video working.

City Attorney Koberlein was not available for comment.

City Manager Helfenberger remains optimistic about the City's coming virtual Zoom meetings. "The problems with Zoom will be corrected. They won't let the problems linger. There are also different levels of security one can buy. We will record the meetings and they will be available under freedom of information," he said.

Information about the City's Monday meetings and login instructions can be found here [click on the meeting].

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