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Lake City Legal Opinion: Olustee Park – Home of Confederate Monument – Owned By Columbia County

Photo of Olustee battlel obelisk with copy: Olustee Battle Obelisk in a downtown Lake City park, owned by Columbia County. What is the County's next step?

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Monday night, March 15, 2021, during a 12th-hour walk-on by City Manager Joel Helfenberger, he announced that a legal opinion solicited by the City stated that Columbia County owns Olustee Park. The Park is home to a Confederate Monument.

Background (Historical)

On February 20, 1864, Southern Confederate soldiers defeated the North in the Battle of Olustee in Baker County. Just shy of sixty-four years later, in 1928, on land owned by Columbia County, a monument was erected to commemorate the Confederate soldiers' lost lives.

Background (2020)

Since George Floyd's death, post-Civil War monuments throughout the South have been coming down and relocated from public property.

In Columbia County/Lake City, the battle to move or not to move the Battle of Olustee monument has been ongoing.

The precursor to search for ownership can be found here: One Civil War Battle of Olustee Monument – Two Views – Back to Square One for Lake City

On September 3, 2020, the battle zone moved to the County 5 during its regularly scheduled meeting. All sides were represented and had their say.

The City had asked for a quitclaim deed to Olustee Park. The Columbia County 5 denied the deed.

Since September 2020, the search for ownership of the park has been ongoing.

Last Monday evening, City Manager Joe Helfenberger threw it out there.

City Manager’s 12th Hour Announcement

Three days before the scheduled City Council meeting, on Friday, March 12, 2021, at 4:40 pm, a legal assistant from the law firm of Douglas & Douglas (D&D) sent an email to the City Manager and City Attorney Fred Koberlein with an attached letter from D&D attorney Meagan Logan.

Earlier in the quest to find the true owner of Olustee Park, City Attorney Fred Koberlein was tasked by the City Manager to do this.

Attorney Koberlein did not announce that he had passed the buck. It was not clear on Monday evening if the City Manager or the City Council knew the task had been outsourced.

Mr. Helfenberger read Attorney Logan's written findings to the City Council. This is the full text of Ms. Logan's remarks:

As you are aware, I have been asked to provide an opinion regarding ownership of Olustee Park.  In arriving at this opinion, I have reviewed a forensic title examination that was ordered by the City along with supporting documentation, as well as a survey of the area commissioned by the City.  Copies of these documents are enclosed for your reference.

A thorough review of these documents shows that as far back as 1890, a patent issued to James Niblack, as Trustee of Columbia County, for property currently known as Olustee Park, was recorded even though the conveyance occurred much earlier. The patent further reflects that James Niblack was appointed as Trustee for Columbia County to receive the property from the federal government on the County’s behalf.

The documentation reviewed and provided herein clearly demonstrates that Olustee Park is and has been owned by Columbia County.

In response to the suggestion that the Olustee Park is owned by the City, because it is labeled as such by the Columbia County Property Appraiser’s Office, I followed up on a public records request made to the Property Appraiser’s Office by the City of Lake City seeking any records indicating that the City owns Olustee Park.

The response confirmed that there are no documents responsive to the City’s request, i.e. that the Property Appraiser’s Office is not in possession of any documents that would suggest the City owns the park, nor any records that would oppose the patent deed described above or the chain of title that followed.

Mr. Helfenberger announced that he had emailed the Council members Ms. Logan’s communication. It was obvious that not all Council members had read it. It is also unknown what time the City Manager emailed the Council on Friday, or if it was on Friday.

Councilman Greene recommended the Council give “some guidance” to the City Manager for next-steps.

Mr. Greene said, “I would make a motion that the City send a copy of the letter to the County and notify them of their ownership of the park.”

The information received from the D&D law firm was clearly a public document.

It is not clear why the City Manager didn’t just send along the information to the County, and there is nothing which states that Mr. Helfenberger needed permission to do that. Once the City Manager found out the City didn't own the park, nothing prevented him from advising the County at the time he advised the Council members.

As of last night (Wednesday), the County had not received any official notification from the City regarding the new legal opinion of Olustee Park.

The County meets tonight. As of yesterday evening, County Manager Kraus did not plan to add the Olustee item as an addition.

County Manager Kraus said, “Of course, the Commissioners can discuss this if they want to.”


The will-nilly way the City runs some of its business had everyone surprised. There is no place on the City Agenda for “Additions or Deletions.” This is disrespectful to the Council members and the public.

The Olustee Monument ball is now in the County’s park, as is Olustee Park.

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