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City Attorney Fred Koberlein Took 'Poetic License' with City Manager Joe Helfenberger’s Suspension Language. How Much Is Too Much?

City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., concentrates during the suspension discussion of City Manager Joe Helfenberger.  (Columbia County Observer photo and graphic)

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  On June 21, the Lake City City Council voted to suspend its City Manager Joe Helfenberger after City Councilman Todd Sampson read a laundry list of complaints from a statement.

The City Charter gives City Manager Helfenberger five days after a “preliminary” resolution is delivered to him to file a written request for a public hearing. If he requests the hearing, it must be held between 15 and 30 days after the request is filed.

If City Manager Helfenberger doesn’t respond to the preliminary resolution within five days after it is delivered, the City Council may adopt a final resolution removing him. The resolution was delivered to Mr. Helfenberger five days ago today.

City Councilman Todd Sampson was clear and specific with his complaints against the City Manager, which he read from a prepared statement. Mr. Sampson's remarks and the statement can be found in this article. City Manager Joe Helfenberger Suspended for 45 Days Pending a Final Resolution for His Removal

Attorney Koberlein
He did not do what he told the City Council he would.

At the June 21 meeting, City Attorney Koberlein told the City Council, "Tomorrow morning, I will go over the audio of this meeting and include the comments of the movant - you, Mr. Sampson, in the preliminary resolution and then get it to Clerk's and Mayor's offices.

Mr. Koberlein didn't ask for a copy of Mr. Sampson's prepared remarks.

Twice, your reporter requested copies of the meeting audio; twice he did not receive it.

As the June 21 meeting drew to a close, the City Council approved by motion an authorization for Mayor Witt to sign a resolution for the City Council allowing Interim City Manager Ami Fields to sign checks.

The Council did not approve Mayor Witt's signing of the "preliminary resolution," which Mr. Koberlein was to prepare to suspend City Manager Helfenberger.

Attorney Koberlein
Did he embellished or mistake Mr. Sampson's remarks?

As reported earlier,  Mr. Koberlein said the following: "I will go over the audio of this meeting and include the comments of the movant - you, Mr. Sampson, in the preliminary resolution.”

Mr. Sampson's articulated comments were the comments which were the basis of the (3-2) vote of the City Council to suspend the City Manager.

The record speaks for itself. Here are some examples.

The Koberlein version: (a) since his employment the city manager has hired two assistant city managers, an IT Director, and a HR Director, and none of the four administrators remain employed with the city, three of which were due to either forced or voluntary resignations.

Mr. Sampson’s actual remarks, in plain English: Since he has been here, Mr. Helfenberger hired two assistant city managers, an IT Director, and a HR Director. They are all gone. One of the assistants was qualified in water and wastewater; the other had no experience in those fields. Both Assistant City Managers resigned or were forced to resign. IT Director Mandy Rand was a qualified IT Director. She was forced to resign.

The Koberlein version: (b) the most recent hire, a HR Director, was qualified for the position and, nonetheless, terminated without any specific reasons.

Mr. Sampson’s actual remarks: “The most recent hire, HR Director Ami Fields, while she didn’t have recent government experience, has a wealth of business experience and an MBA. That didn’t work out either.”

Mr. Sampson said nothing about Ami Fields' termination "without any specific reasons."

Mr. Koberlein also added 'stuff' in the following example.

The Koberlein version: (c) the interim director of IT abruptly resigned the interim position by requesting a demotion and was so disenchanted that he refused to speak with the city manager and forwarded his resignation directly to the City Council.

Mr. Sampson's remarks: "The Interim Director of IT quit after a few weeks, and was so disenchanted that he refused to speak with the City Manager and forwarded his resignation directly to the City Council.”

And so it goes, sometimes Mr. Koberlein gets close, and others, he is out in left field or beyond, adding 'stuff' that was not approved by the City Council.

In the following example, Mr. Koberlein left out a pertinent accusation by Councilman Sampson regarding Mr. Helfenberger's purported knowledge of events.

Mr. Koberlein wrote: (h) during a public meeting of the City Council, held during November 2020, the city manager, the assistant city manager, the director of utilities, and the director of city water could not explain why the city’s Water Use Permit had been reduced.

Mr. Sampson said: "In November 2020, during the City Council meeting, the City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, the Director of Utilities, and the Director of City Water could not explain why the City Water Use Permit had been reduced. Although the City Manager knew what the answer was, it was not presented.”

The comparison of the City Attorney's version of all of Mr. Sampson's remarks and Mr. Sampson's actual remarks is here.


Without authorization, the City Attorney refried Mr. Sampson’s remarks, changing them, leaving out or adding information, which disrespected the City Council, City Councilman Sampson, City Manager Helfenberger, and the process itself.

Earlier in the day, via email, Mr. Helfenberger was asked for comments. He did not respond.

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