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Olustee - ‘Second Thoughts’: Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth Shows Up At City Council, “It’s kinda’ strange, but here I am.”

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Olustee Park - Monument controversy, now in the lap of the Columbia County 5 (the County Commission), had Columbia County’s newest commissioner, Robby Hollingsworth, signing up to speak at Monday’s City Council meeting. Why? Olustee – Second thoughts.


On August 21, 2020, via a dated and signed letter, City Manager Joe Helfenberger sent a letter to Columbia County asking that the County issue a quitclaim deed to the City for Olustee Park. The Park is the home of the Olustee Civil War Monument, which recognizes the Confederate Civil War dead at the 1864 Battle of Olustee.

County Attorney Joel Foreman
County Attorney Joel Foreman on March 18, 2021, encouraging the County 5 to "Strike while the iron's hot."

Shortly after that the County 5 met and voted not to deed the Park to the City until it was established who owned the Park.

On March 15, 2021, as the evening’s City Council meeting was drawing to a close, City Manager Helfenberger announced he had received an opinion about the ownership of Olustee Park from local law firm Douglas & Douglas. ‘The Park belonged to Columbia County.’

City Manager Helfenberger had not asked the item be added to the evening’s agenda, although he did say that the City Council members had received the opinion. The City did not discuss the issue. The City’s next scheduled meeting was April 5.

On Thursday, April 1, 2021, the Columbia County 5 (or The 5) held its first bimonthly meeting.

See: Olustee, the Monument That Keeps on Giving, Now in the Hands of the Columbia County 5

County Attorney Joel Foreman, Florida’s only popularly elected county attorney, City residents are also his constituents, without waiting for the City to meet for its scheduled meeting on the following Monday, added the Olustee Park (the Olustee Monument issue) to the County’s agenda.

On a 4-1 vote, Commissioner Ronald Williams dissenting, the County 5 chose not to deed Olustee Park to the City with Commissioner Toby Witt saying the County would handle the issue.

Monday, April 5: The City Council Meets
Commissioner Hollingsworth Appears

Accompanied by Commissioner Toby Witt, Commissioner Hollingsworth, just like any other citizen, signed up to speak during the meeting's public comment portion.

Mayor Witt announced Commissioner Hollingsworth, “Next is Robby Hollingsworth.”

Mr. Hollingsworth addressed the City Council

Mr. Hollingsworth began, “It's kinda’ strange bein' on this side of this, but here I am. I came here to explain in my words what happened in the meeting the other day. You know, I wasn't Commissioner when all this came about. I was campaigning. Ya’ know how a campaign is - you don't pay as much attention as you should. But, I think it was August 10 this came up... all along I heard you all wanted the Park - that the City wanted the Park.”

Mr. Hollingsworth explained that he saw the April 1 vote of the County 5 as “a procedural vote.”

Mr. Hollingsworth continued, “It sounded like - you know - everything wasn't a real big deal.”

“During that discussion, it came to pass that somebody asked David [County Manager David Kraus], they said, ‘Well, has the City given their opinion on what they want to do - do they want the Park?’”

Mr. Hollingsworth continued, “Well, his words - Mr. Helfenberger - he contacted Mr. Helfenberger, and Mr. Helfenberger said the City had no position. And you could see where I would be very shocked about that. I really couldn't believe it, and it didn't really make a lot of sense to me, but essentially, that changed my vote, because I'm not gonna give somethin' to a board or anyone else that isn't sure if they want it or not.”

"I'm here to hear what you really want."

“I'm here for the truth. I'm here to hear what you really want. And I am open to what you want because - and if you look at the paper last Saturday, they interviewed me on Friday sometime, they said, "How do you feel about it?"

“I said, ‘I do not believe that we should take it from the City. I don't think it's right.’ And today, I still don't think it's right. But, with the new information we had, I made a different decision than I was going to make.”

Mr. Hollingsworth continued, “Well, doin' the right thing, and that comes along with the fact that you all spent millions of dollars - ya' know - takin' care of that place; fixin' it up for County and City residents. And I just don't believe that because of some glitch 100 years ago that y'all to have to give up all of that equity you have in that Park.”

“I try to put myself in other people's shoes. And if I were in your shoes... I don't blame you guys for wantin' it back.”

“I will not depend on my County Manager… I will find out what the situation is.”

“One thing I will say, from now on when I have an issue with the City, and we're havin' an issue like this - probably won't ever happen again - but I will not depend on my County Manager, and I won't depend on the City Manager to fill me in. I will come to you personally, and I'll sit down with you and ask you and find out what the situation is so that I am more educated on what's goin' on.”

Mr. Hollingsworth concluded, “I'm for you having the Park, as I have been since - ya' know, before. I think that you should have it, and it's not right for us to take it.”

Mr. Hollingsworth left the microphone and walked toward his seat.

Not waiting to hear the comments and deliberation of the City Council, Commissioner Hollingsworth and Commissioner Witt left the meeting.

Zoom: Commissioners Robby Hollingsworth and Toby Witt leave City Council meeting
As Sylvester Warren began to address the City Council, Mr. Hollingsworth (standing) and Commissioner Witt (getting up in dark jacket) left the meeting.                  (Zoom screen shot)

Businessman-Community Activist Sylvester Warren Addressed the Council

Businessman & community activist Sylvester Warren
Sylvester Warren addreses the City Council.

Mr. Warren told the Council: “Mr. Hollingsworth admitted in two meetings ago, and he is now before the Council lyin' as to why he voted the way he voted. He agreed -- everybody knows the history of this Park situation. We spent $10,000 because they asked us to prove... prove to us you own it. And once you do it, we'll give it to you, no strings attached... the right thing for the commissioners to have done was to give us what they promised they were going to do... Nothin' about the City position changed. The City would not have spent that money if they did not want that Park... We would have told them if we did not want it... They're very disingenuous."

Mr. Warren continued, “I'm now of the opinion that some of the commissioners cannot be trusted when they say things, and if I was the City Council, I would be extremely careful moving forward in any kind of partnership or relationship with those guys.”

The City Speaks

Mayor Witt introduced the Olustee Park issue.

City Councilman Jake Hill
Councilman Jake Hill | Observer photo

Councilman Hill said, “I think it's no more than right for the City to continue with the park.”

Councilman Jefferson said, “I agree with the comments from Mr. Hill. I always thought that the Park belonged to the City... I feel the City should maintain ownership.”

Councilman Sampson said, “I agree. The City has maintained the Park. I think the reason this has become a bigger issue is not anything to do with the Park. It's because of what's in the Park... We need -- in no uncertain terms -- to let the County Commission know - we want the Park. Beyond that, if they don't want to give us the Park, we should possibly direct Council to see what goes into being paid back for an investment into the Park. We ask them to deed us the Park.”

Councilman Greene said, “We've already asked the County Commission to quitclaim deed the Park to us. They were so certain that they didn't own it that they didn't pick up the vote... (They didn't vote to give up the Park)... We all thought the Park was the City's. We were all wrong... We now know that Park and that Monument belong to the County.

City Councilman Chris Greene
Councilman Chris Greene

Councilman Greene continued, “If the City is going to ask for the Park the third time, then what we also need to ask for is the funds to handle the monument that we know is going to follow the transfer of ownership of the park.”

Mayor Witt said that the City has always been in favor of Olustee Park's ownership and asked for consensus that the Council is maintaining that position. He received consensus.


Mayor Witt asked City Manager Helfenberger to attend the next meeting of the County 5 “and represent the City.”

Comments (to add a comment go here

On April 7, 2021, Bud Thayer wrote:

I feel that if the city really wants the park & the county agrees then there should be a contingency clause requiring the city to leave the monument alone. No removal, no destruction, etc. We've seen way too much of this \"cancel culture\" crap which does nothing positive for our country. Let's all learn from our history, not try to erase the past which was both good and bad.
Bud Thayer


On April 2, 2021, Bernie O"Hara wrote:

I see a forensic title search was done by Law Firm Douglas & Douglas on Olustee Park. They say this land was given to the County by the Federal Government. As you and I both know things have a reason to happen. It would be most interesting to know why the Federal Government saw fit to just up and give the County this particular parcel of land. Just curious.
Bernie O’Hara

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