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Lake City News

Gov't Mess: City Holds Fourth-First Community Development Block Grant Public Hearing

Photo by Lucho Alberto

LAKE CITY, FL – Last evening in City Hall, Lake City's City Council held its Fourth-First Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) public hearing. Four, First public hearings may be a record in Florida, or even America, as the City continues flying by the seat of its CDBG pants.

Community Development Block Grants:
Controlled by the Feds – Administered by the State
Local Jurisdictions Develop Their Own Plans

Former City Councilman and community activist Glenel Bowden appeared by Zoom. He was not in favor of the City Manager's Plan.

The Federal and State CDBG regulations are written to ensure an adequate opportunity for "community-wide participation in the planning, development and implementation activities related to the City's Community Development Block Grant Program." (Quote from the Lake City Plan)

HUD makes clear the responsibilities of the City when it comes to citizen participation and the requirements of the Citizen Participation Plan (CIP).

"The primary goal [of the plan] is to provide citizens – especially low and moderate-income citizens of the community where CDBG-funded activities will take place – an opportunity to participate in an advisory role in the planning, implementation, and assessment of the programs and projects." (HUD)

The City, among other things, must include the following in its Plan: "Policy for providing technical assistance to the community so that they will become knowledgeable about the CDBG program and can contribute some ideas to solving some of the community’s needs." (HUD)

This policy is not provided in the City's Plan.

The City Plan needs to show how the City "will facilitate citizens being involved." (HUD)

HUD doesn’t specify how long before an application is submitted to the state to hold a public hearing.  However, the City and the City Manager must ensure that there is enough time for the citizens to have meaningful input prior to submitting the grant application.

One way that citizens can become involved in the CDBG process is through the Citizens Advisory Task Force (CATF).

City Manager Helfenberger presents his plan for $3/4 Mil CDBG money. Zoom image

Earlier in the year, City Manager Helfenberger delegated the responsibility of choosing the CATF members to the City's Risk Manager Steve Roberts. Mr. Roberts chose a husband and wife team, who also in the past received project money from the City, a City employee, and two others.

While there is no rule against selecting a husband and wife team, they received funds from the City, clearly a questionable call. The City Council didn't have an issue with the appointments and approved Mr. Robert's picks.

CATF meetings are one of the keys to public involvement in the CDGB process.

Besides not being held in the spirit of HUD regulations, yesterday's 3 o'clock CATF meeting was held 3 hours before the first public hearing, a time not adequate for citizen evaluation of the presented material.

According to a City source, the same material was presented at the public hearing.

Of course, anyone who worked a 9-5 job was automatically shut out of the CATF meeting.

The City proved that it was not keen on following the HUD recommendation that the proposed amount of funds to benefit low and moderate-income people be made available at the public hearings.

During yesterday's Fourth-First public hearing, this was not done, although the City Manager and Consultant knew of the City's coming recommendation.

Lake City Not Following the Rules, Again

Melissa Fox presents a PowerPoint that was available to no one. Zoom image.

As shown, preeminent in the Federal Rules regarding Community Development Block Grants is citizen participation. The rules require a Citizen Participation Plan to be enacted by the municipality and be available for inspection during regular business hours.

In Lake City, the Plan is required to be available "at the City Manager's Office" in City Hall.

In 2000, the City adopted an amended Citizen Participation Plan, which made the City Manager the Plan's coordinator.

While the Plan does not allow for the City Manager to delegate the responsibility, it appears that the responsibility for the initial public notices and information were delegated to the City's Growth Management Director.

Earlier today, your reporter requested from Director Young the City's Citizen Participation Plan. He said he didn't know where it was.

It appears the Plan was not available at the CATF meetings, and it was not available at the Fourth-First public hearing or any of the others.

Citizen Participation Plan vs. Public Hearings

Community activist and businessman Sylvester Warren was not happy with the City Council's approval of the City Manager's plan.  Zoom image

The CPP and public hearings are not the same, and doing one is not doing the other. The public hearings are a component of the Plan, and the last public hearing is the final act before the submission of the CDGB plan.

The CPP is a road map that lays out how citizens are involved in CDBG activities.

Many communities require, and HUD recommends alternative means of noticing community involvement, such as contacting business groups, fraternal groups, public service groups, and churches in the CDBG area.

Lake City does not do this.

The City Fourth-First Public Hearing

Of the few people who attended the hearing, not one person favored the City Manager's Plan to apply for $750,000 to continue improvements on a City park, which had already been improved to the tune of over $1,000,000.

Neither the City Manager, Growth Management, the CATF, nor the City CDBG consultant, explained how the improvements would affect low and middle-income people.

When City Councilman Eugene Jefferson asked how much of the Park was left to complete, the City Manager said, "Lighting, some landscaping, the fountain, and some fencing."

It was also explained that the City had received a $150k matching grant from the Columbia County Tourist Development Council, and the City intended to leverage $150k of the $750k grant funds so it would not have to reimburse the County for the grant.

Vanessa George, a former City Council candidate, was not happy with the City Council's decision.        File

In plain English, the rest of America's taxpayers would be paying to complete the Park.

Community activist Vanessa George explained how some members of the surrounding community would be able to go the Park for awards ceremonies and "then go home to rats and roaches coming through the walls."

Councilwoman Melinda Moses said that all grant money would not be spent on the Park, and the leftover could be used for residential housing rehabilitation.

Splitting grant funds, as proposed by Ms. Moses, is not allowed.

The City Council approved Ms. Moses' motion to apply for a commercial revitalization grant – the Park is a public park – and split-up the money.

Only Councilman Jake Hill voted against the grant, saying that the grant should go toward the City's housing needs.


As of post time, the City's issues with timely sharing of public information on the City website continues. The Calendar does not show any Citizen Advisory Task Force or Second Public Hearing dates.

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