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Lake City Utility Advisory Committee Back on Track Again. City Administration and Attorney Faux Pas Cause Consternation – Confusion

Photo: girl with hands holding head. Copy: Confusion, the new normal for Lake City?
Photo: Ghaith Harstany - Unsplash | Columbia County Observer Graphic

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Monday’s emergency called City Council meeting didn’t have to be an emergency. City Administration and City Attorney Faux Pas have once again caused disarray, consternation, and confusion.

Two items were on Monday's City “Emergency” agenda. The first item was another resolution establishing City Council members on the City Utility Advisory Committee. How this item made it on the agenda is anybody's guess as no one took ownership.

The second item was City Manager Joe Helfenberger's, "Discussion and Possible Action” regarding the Fort White RFP to provide water or something to the Town of Fort White.

Fort White RFP

A few weeks ago, Fort White consultant Dale Williams cobbled together a Request for Proposal (FRP) for the Fort White “Public Water Supply and Public Water Distribution” system.

Government sources have complained that there was not enough time to provide a complete response. Also missing from the proposal was the requirement that the responder provide "a list of qualified personnel, company background, and references," among other things.

It is also not clear if the Town Attorney reviewed the RFP. Coincidently, the attorney, Fred Koberlein, Jr., is also the attorney for the City of Lake City.

The knowledge base of utility professionals at the City had to have an idea of the prohibitive cost to run a water line to Fort White. The City Manager's 12th-hour estimate was not a surprise, considering Ft. White's minimal customer base of around 200 paying customers.

Newly installed Fort White Town Councilman William Bishop.
Newly installed Town Councilman William Bishop was not friendly toward Lake City.

Last month, the hostility shown by the Fort White Town Council to Lake City for showing interest in providing water was palpable. It was clear from the meeting that Fort White and Columbia County have a panacea-pie-in-the-sky dream that a collaboration between Fort White and Columbia County will open the floodgates of federal and state funding for both Fort White, and the "Dream Utility" that some of the Columbia County 5 wish to establish.

Considering the overwhelming circumstances, it is questionable whether the City Council needed a special meeting to determine whether to respond to the RFP.

The City Utility Advisory Committee: Here We Go Again

For what seems like the ten-thousandth-time, the makeup of the City Utility Advisory Committee was an issue.

It was an issue that City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr, could have avoided.

As reported earlier in a story about the March 15, 2021, City Council meeting, Lake City & Columbia County Finally Smoke a Utility Peace Pipe. Agree to Cooperate, it seemed like the composition of the City Utility Advisory Committee was finally set; the City and County sang "Kumbayah" and were ready and looking forward to getting down to business.

At the end of the March 15 meeting, City Councilman Greene abruptly resigned from the Committee, leaving a vacancy that could have been filled right there on-the-spot.

City Attorney Koberlein could have pointed out to the Mayor and the rest of the Council that the sudden vacancy on the Committee needed to be filled and that to avoid any more meetings and further delays, the Mayor could fill the position and then appoint the chairman before the meeting adjourned.

City Attorney Koberlein did not do that, and the meeting adjourned without the vacancy filled; thus, the necessity for Monday’s special meeting to fill the vacancy.

This was good for City Atty. Koberlein, as he could bill the City for more of his time.

While this seemed like a simple matter, the confusion that has lately the City lately did not abate.

Monday Night
The City Utility Committee: 'Nothing is a simple matter'

On March 15, 2021, the City Council and the Mayor voted (4-1) to change the resolution establishing the makeup of the City Utility Advisory Committee to include what it set at its first meeting: two City Councilmembers, two County Commissioners, the City and County Managers, the City Utility Director, and the County Economic Development Director.

The resolution, which was before the City Council on Monday evening, did not reflect the latest City Council vote.

The resolution had changed, adding real estate developer Daniel Crapps and the Mayor as ex officio member.

Lake City Councilman Todd Sampson
Councilman Todd Sampson (file)

Councilman Sampson objected, and after some back and forth between the Mayor, Mr. Sampson said, "This is changing the makeup, again, for another time that's adding other people to it. It's different than the one we approved at the last meeting... I could make the motion to have the same people I made at the previous meeting... I think we just need to have a meeting with the people we put on at the last meeting and move forward from there... we keep changing at every meeting.”

Mayor Witt said,” I agree with that... We're still down to one Council member without a resolution.”

Mr. Sampson said, “I could alter that motion to add a Councilmember to what we just approved at the last meeting. Would that be acceptable?

Mayor Witt turned to City Atty. Koberlein.

Attorney Koberlein said, “Mayor, that would be acceptable. The subject matter is here to let the public know that the composition may change. Additionally, the code requires that any absences or vacancies, strike that word absences, ‘a vacancy must immediately be reported to the City Council’ [Mr. Koberlein did not mention that he was reading from the City code]. So a reappointment may be made.

Attorney Koberlein did not mention that the “immediately reported” occurred at the last meeting and could have been taken care of at that time.

Mayor Witt asked if appointing Councilman Jefferson “would do it.”

City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.  (file)

Attorney Koberlein answered, "Yes sir. You can do what's on the agenda, or you can do what Mr. Sampson just suggested. What I am saying is the subject matter has been advertised, and so you can recompose the Committee as you see fit. And you should do at least one member.”

City Attorney Koberlein gave short shrift to the motion establishing the Committee at the last meeting.

There was confusion about Robert's rules, and the conversation continued.

City Atty. Koberlein weighed in again, “Well, I think that what can be achieved here is amending resolution 049 [the evening’s new resolution]. But you could amend 049 if you have what was in the previous resolution passed at the last meeting; adding Council member Jefferson in place of Council member Greene.”

Mr. Koberlein continued, “If you remember at the last meeting, the motion was to amend the resolution that had been prepared and placed in your packet. That passed -- Council member Greene resigned. We now have resolution 049, which is what the administration pieced together.”

Attorney Koberlein did not say who of the “Administration” “pieced together” a resolution that did not reflect the Council's wishes at the last meeting.

Attorney Koberlein continued, “If you had a motion to amend 049, to include only those members who were on the last resolution, and forgive me, that number escapes me, and substituting in Mr. Jefferson in place of Mr. Greene."

Councilman Sampson makes a motion to “replace the people listed here, with the people we have in the last resolution, and substituting Mr. Jefferson for Mr. Greene as the other Council member.”

Councilman Hill seconded the motion.

Mayor Witt said, “I'd like to see Mr. Crapps on there... Ms. Sikes, will you call the roll."

Lake City City Clerk Audrey Sikes
City Clerk Audrey Sikes   (file)

City Clerk Audrey Sikes advised the Council, “Mayor, I just want to make sure that everyone understands that you are not an ex officio member with the motion that he [Sampson] made.”

Mayor Witt said he understood.

Ms. Sikes continued, “So it's actually just striking out Mayor Witt, and Daniel Crapps is being removed, and Mayor Witt is being removed.”

The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Witt and Councilman Green opposed.

It would have been simple if that is where this would have ended, but this is Lake City.

Directly After the Meeting: Trouble in the Council Chambers

Resolution 2021-049 named "Councilmember Sampson, Chairperson" and replaced the resigned Councilman Greene with "Councilmember Eugene Jefferson."

Clerk Sikes explained, "So it's actually just striking out Mayor Witt, and Daniel Crapps is being removed, and Mayor Witt is being removed."

After the meeting adjourned, Clerk Sikes told Councilman Jefferson that he was the chairman of the Committee.

It was reported that Mr. Jefferson said he did not want to be the chairman and he wasn’t going to do it.

Councilman Sampson told your reporter," Mr. Koberlein said they would need another special meeting before the City Utility Advisory Committee could meet."

The reason: According to City Attorney Koberlein, a special meeting would be needed to have a chairman appointed.

This is not true. The ordinance does not require the chairperson to be appointed by resolution.

Mr. Sampson said he was so furious that he dropped a couple of “F-bombs.”

He said that caught people’s attention because “I don’t talk like that.”

That is true. Mr. Sampson doesn't.

Later that evening, the Clerk announced a special meeting was called for yesterday.

As is the usual practice, the notice did not state who called the special meeting.

The purpose of the special meeting was another redo of the City Utility Advisory Committee resolution.

In a conversation with the Mayor after Monday's meeting, your reporter pointed out that all that was necessary was he "delegate" the chairperson. A resolution was only required to appoint the committee members.

Yesterday's special emergency meeting was canceled. There are conflicting stories about who canceled the meeting.

At 2 pm today, the City Utility Advisory Committee will meet with the City and County sitting down for the first time to discuss City-County utility issues.


It is a sad state of affairs that folks in the highest places in Columbia County are astounded and shake their heads at the recent actions of the City, the City Attorney, and the former Assistant City Manager.

This disarray is a recent phenomenon. The City has not always been like this.

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