Stew Lilker’s

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Lake City News

Lake City's Resolutions, Ordinances Have Issues City Attorney Koberlein Invents New Legal Term

photo of sausage with copy: Lake City FL Gov't in Action. Like suasage: If you watch it being made, you probably wouldn't eat it.

Lake City, Columbia County, FL – The City Council's problems with being heard continued at Monday's Council meeting in the School Bd. Admin. Auditorium, although listening on Zoom was a little better. Once again, there were issues with City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.


Essential "Report to Council" mostly disappears from City agendas

During the reign of former City Manager Wendell Johnson, he upgraded agenda preparation to include the "City of Lake City, Report to Council."

This form introduced agenda items to the City Council and the public, providing valuable information: the organization, the director providing the information, a recommended action, and an essential section called: "Summary Explanation & Background."

Lake City Florida: report to council
The "Report to Council" is essential for understanding the governmental process. ++Click to enlarge

The Summary Explanation & Background portion explains how the item came to the Council, and a summary of the item, invaluable information for both the Council and the public.

Also included were sections that provided alternatives, a source of funding, and the item's financial impact.

The final item was a box that explained what exhibits were attached or included relating to the item.

The Report to Council is an invaluable aid. Across the street from City Hall, the County picked up on the idea.

With its de minimis bent, the County adopted all the form items, except the summary explanation and background, and the source of funds.

Shortly after City Manager Joe Helfenberger took over the City's reins, the Report to Council began disappearing.

Your reporter brought this up many times to the City Manager. City Manager Helfenberger agreed the Report to Council is important and should be included with the agenda items.

In the last City Agenda Packet, only one person provided the Report to Council to the City Clerk for inclusion with the agenda material, Growth Management Director David Young.

Late yesterday afternoon, City Manager Helfenberger told your reporter the Report to Council should be included with the agenda material. However, he was looking at the County form to replace the 'tried and true' form of the City.

It wasn't clear if he would check with the Council members to see if the County form was more acceptable to them.

Part I
The Resolution
Does City Atty Fred Koberlein Proof Read This Stuff?

On Monday's agenda, the first item was a resolution identifying City property that could be used for affordable housing.

The title read by Attorney Koberlein included the following: "adopting an inventory list identifying City property deemed appropriate for use as potential affordable housing."

Eugene Jefferson: Lake City Councilman
Veteran Councilman Eugene Jefferson (file)

Councilman Jefferson picked up on errors and inconsistencies in the resolution.

Mr. Jefferson pointed out the resolution calls for the City Council to "review the inventory list of affordable housing" instead of "identify property deemed appropriate for use as potential affordable housing."

He said the City was not looking for a "list of houses."

The list attached to the resolution was vacant City parcels.

Mr. Jefferson asked Attorney Koberlein, "Is that correct?"

Attorney Koberlein responded [as spoken]: "That is correct. Mr. Jefferson, the - however - the properties we're reviewing is for the affordable housing act... which says that 'we will review properties that would be appropriate for affordable housing,' meaning the develop of that housing - whether the property's vacant or not."

Once again, Mr. Jefferson did not talk into his microphone, and his response was unintelligible.

Attorney Koberlein responded: "I want to make sure that I understand you. Are you saying that the first use of 'affordable housing,' meaning "The inventory list of affordable housing attached hereto as "Exhibit A," you would like to see that say, 'The inventory list of properties attached hereto as Exhibit A,' is adopted?"

Mr. Jefferson said yes and explained that the resolution's body and the title said things differently, pointing out that the Affordable Housing Resolution dealt with properties, and not "houses."

Attorney Koberlein responded, "The resolution could be passed as is, or it could be passed with a motion to correct that use."

Lake City Councilman Todd Sampson
Councilman Todd Sampson (file)

Attorney Koberlein said that because the list of property was attached, it could "be passed either way."

Attorney Koberlein continued, "I do recognize the semantics that you're recommending. I do believe that would be 100% accurate."

Councilman Sampson recommended that attorney Koberlein's wording be changed to reflect Mr. Jefferson's changes.

Mayor Witt said something which was mostly unintelligible. He called for the vote to change the language.

It passed unanimously.

Part II
The Ordinance – Back to the drawing board
Attorney Koberlein Invents a New Legal Term

Also considered by the City Council Monday evening was an ordinance that would amend the City Code providing for "lien amnesty and forgiveness of fines and liens associated with code enforcement proceedings."

How this got in front of the City Council was anybody's guess, as there wasn't any Report to Council provided by either Attorney Koberlein or the City Management.

Lake City, City Clerk Audrey Sikes
City Clerk Audrey Sikes. While she can get the agendas out on time, she can't make the City staff provide the "Reports to Council." (file photo)

According to City Clerk Audrey Sikes, Attorney Koberlein's office just sent the ordinance over without further explanation.

An examination of this ordinance's history revealed that the ordinance was first provided to Attorney Koberlein and City Manager Helfenberger on March 6, 2020, by Growth Management Director David Young.

The Lien Amnesty Ordinance, with a few changes, was again provided by Director Young to City Manager Helfenberger over two months ago, on October 22, 2020.

After Attorney Koberlein read the ordinance title, City Manager Helfenberger asked for a change.

He said, "I would like the Council to consider waiving the fee for hardship cases if somebody really can't afford any cost at all. In those circumstances, it may be appropriate not to charge the fee."

Mayor Witt said something that was totally unintelligible.

Attorney Koberlein, who has recently discovered the microphone, said, "It would be a substantive amendment. There is a call for an application fee in two instances, and they do differ from one another. And so, we should not even read it for the first time because it would need to come back for the first reading, anyhow."

The application fee was mentioned at least seven times in the ordinance.

Fred Koberlein, Jr., Lake City, City Attorney
Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.  (file photo)

Attorney Koberlein continued: "I guess we could have a quasi workshop right now, during this meeting, if you have any other suggestions -- I'm speaking to you, Mayor. If the board has any other suggestions to this program, I'll be glad to take them. Go back with the application fee revisions in those two instances, as well as any others, and hopefully bring it back for a clean first reading."

There is no such thing as a "Clean First Reading." Mr. Koberlein made this up. Ordinances come before the Council and the public "twice" to review the language and make changes. Nothing in any law requires or encourages a "clean first reading" of anything.

Growth Management Director Young provided the ordinance to the City Attorney in March 2020 and the City Manager in October 2020. While either of them could have brought the proposed ordinance before the Council for review or modification, neither did.

Councilman Sampson weighed in. Unfortunately, Mr. Sampson turned away from the microphone. He seemed to ask how many people were affected and asked if the fee should be waived altogether.

Joe Helfenberger: Lake City, City Manager
City Manager Joe Helfenberger (file photo)

City Manager Helfenberger responded: "It wouldn't if we are trying to get property that's been out of compliance because they can't afford to do anything with it. If you want this to be effective, we are going to be able to ensure that we encourage people to do this and have the ability to do it. The 50-100 dollar fee was small in comparison to [a few sentences of unintelligible remarks followed by] the other property around it, which could cause the property value to be lower, (unintelligible) you get less taxes out of them and the surrounding properties."

Mr. Sampson asked, "Could we have this rewritten to remove the fee and bring it back?"

Mr. Helfenberger answered, "Sure."

Mr. Sampson made a motion to postpone the ordinance. He did not ask that the new language be written into the ordinance.

The Mayor called for a motion to postpone the ordinance. He did not ask that the new language be written into the ordinance.

Attorney Koberlein weighed in: "Mayor, I ask you to call for discussion and such that there are any additional revisions, we go ahead and try to get those so that we can again, have a clean first reading at the next meeting."

Mayor Witt responded. He was mostly unintelligible. He asked if anyone had anything else."

No one did.


The devil is in the details.

Lake City's Management and the City Attorney need to begin dotting their 'I's' and crossing their 'T's.' 

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