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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City Charter Revision, City Manager Helfenberger to Revisit Enhanced Public Notice

City Manager Joe Helfenberger
Columbia County Observer photo

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The City Charter Review Board met virtually on Monday. On its agenda was an item entitled "Enhanced Public Notice," which would have mandated timely notice and the inclusion of agenda material on the Lake City website.


Since your reporter began covering Lake City getting timely delivery of City meeting agendas and their supporting documentation has been problematic.

In 2012, former City Manager Wendell Johnson said "it wouldn't be a problem" providing agendas and supporting documentation a week in advance if he could get timely delivery of legal documents from the City Attorney.

Once City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., came on board in 2016, the situation seemed to worsen and the holdups became more common. This is also an issue in Fort White, where he is the Town Attorney.

Recently, citizens have been complaining about access to City agendas and supporting information, but to no avail.

In early 2019, the City heard about municipalities throughout Florida being sued for lack of website ADA compliance.

At that time, the City could have followed the advice of the Florida League of Cities and been proactive.

The League recommended preparing an "accessibility statement" and posting it on the website.

Specifically, the League's advice was for the City to identify "plans for achieving and ensuring accessibility" and "state that you understand the importance of accessibility."

The City never did that; was warned; dragged its feet; was sued and settled.

The settlement agreement, approved in April of last year, gave the City one year to come into compliance.

For Lake City, that was not enough time and the City is still struggling and unable to post most backup material and even City minutes, which have not been posted since the beginning of the year.

The Observer offered to convert the minutes to be ADA compliant. The offer was ignored.

City Manager Commits to Posting City Agendas a Week in Advance

On June 18, 2020, City Manager Helfenberger told your reporter that he was committed to posting the City agendas on the City website on the Tuesday before the regularly scheduled Monday City Council meetings.

Mr. Helfenberger said, "From now on the agenda is coming out on Tuesday by the close of business and will be posted on the City website."

Mr. Helfenberger explained how agenda items that don't make it on time will be handled. He said a page will be added in the agenda for each late item stating the information was not provided with the headline: "Not ready at post time."

Monday Night at the Charter Review Board (CRB)

On the CRB agenda for Monday evening was a proposed item to the City Charter, titled "Enhanced Public Notice."

A similar item was added to the County Charter with overwhelming public support in 2008 and rejected by the City Charter Review Board in 2010.

With barely any discussion, it was rejected by the CRB on Monday night.

The wording was simple: "In addition to any notice required by law, the City Council shall use the City web site to provide the public with convenient and timely access, defined as five working days, to its regular and special meeting agendas, including the information provided to the Council for its consideration."

After some legal language the proposed amendment went on to say: "The Council shall also adopt measures to ensure that such information is available for the meetings of any subordinate boards and committees for which notices are required by Section 286.011, Florida Statutes."

City Manager Helfenberger weighed in, "I don't think that in its form, if you included all committees and meetings, that this would be a workable situation for 5 working days for all meetings."

It is not clear if the City Manager understood that it was meetings only required to be noticed by the FL Statutes.

Mr. Helfenberger continued, "I'm working with the Clerk to try to get the ADA compliance on the website. At some point I'm hoping to have that 100 percent so we can put all the documents – attachments to the agenda supplements – in the regular agendas, but right now we signed a stipulation – court order that we would provide a certain type of handicapped accessibility for all the documents on the website, with no exceptions."

"With no exceptions": not true

"With no exceptions is not true. The settlement clearly states:

"Defendant [the City] is not obligated to remediate PDF content that already exists on www.lcfla.com prior to April 1, 2020" and continues, "Defendant is not obligated by this Settlement Agreement to make any record, document, electronic file, or other material (including without limitation, third-party submissions to Defendant, development-related applications and supporting documents or materials, site plans, development plans, maps, surveys, drawings, schematics, documents with handwriting, and hard copy documents scanned or aggregated into PDF) accessible to individuals who are visually-impaired if such action is technically infeasible or unreasonably costly as reasonably determined by the Defendant."

For over a year, the City has been dragging its feet. However, according to the settlement, the City can post troublesome documents; have time to remediate them or even offer to read them.

Chairperson Summerall, who served for a time as Representative Liz Porter's Chief of staff, was the last person to weigh in on the subject of Enhanced Notice.

"I could look at a couple of reasons why I feel that would impede progress to some degree." He did not explain the "progress" or "degree."


A little while before this article was posted, City Manager Helfenberger weighed in.

He said, "The City is committing to timely access for the public and I will be revisiting the Enhanced Public Notice Charter Amendment at the next CRB meeting, as it is important that the public can rely on the City providing them with the information they need when they need it."

Mr. Helfenberger added, "I think this is something the citizens need to vote on."

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