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Lake City News

On the City Docket Tonight: Council to Decide Next Steps For a Permanent City Manager

Photo of Interim Lake City, City Manager Ami Fields with copy: is the council going to give her time to fix the City mess?
(Columbia County Observer photo and graphic)

LAKE CITY, COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On June 21, 2021, the City Council voted to suspend its City Manager and install its just terminated HR Director as Interim City Manager. Tonight, the City Council will discuss the process moving forward.


On June 21, 2021, in what began as a special session and was bollixed up and turned into an emergency addition to its regular agenda, City Manager Joe Helfenberger was suspended, pending a possible termination.

See: City Manager Joe Helfenberger Suspended for 45 Days Pending a Final Resolution for His Removal

Tonight, July 12, the Council is scheduled to pass a final resolution permanently ending its association with City Manager Helfenberger.

Also, on June 21, Councilman Sampson made the following motion: "We install Ami Fields as the interim City Manager and that we go with Range Riders as a backup to help us out, and in addition that we open up a full search for a future city manager to lead us in the right direction.”

Mr. Sampson's motion was never repeated for the record, as it is supposed to be. The City Clerk had her version of the motion: "Mr. Sampson made a motion to install Ami Fields as Interim City Manager with the Range Riders as backup, and to immediately open up a full search for a future City Manager.”

It is not clear if the Clerk will correct the minutes to restate Mr. Sampson's motion accurately.

City Manager Search
When does it begin; who is going to do it?

Way at the end of this evening’s agenda, under "Other Items," is the Mayor's item no. 21: "Discussion and possible action – RFP Process for City Manager Search."

As of Saturday, July 10, the Observer had spoken with all Councilmen except Mr. Greene, who does not believe in speaking with the press and has previously stated, reading about the news of Lake City.

Option 1: Giving the interim City Manager six months to get the City on an even keel, everyone agrees it is a hot mess, and then going out for a search if necessary.

Councilman Hill and Sampson are in this camp.

Option 2:  Going out ASAP for a City Manager search.

Mayor Witt and presumably Councilman Greene, who lately votes the opposite of whatever Councilman Sampson votes, favor option 2.

Your reporter spoke with Mayor Witt on Saturday and asked him about what might be his recommendation.

Mayor Witt said, “With the past City Managers, we've always gone with a search. What I plan on recommending is we do what we have always done. Why do it different?”

Your reporter followed up, "If somebody could convince you that there could be a different way to do it, would you consider something different?”

Mayor Witt answered, “I’m open to any ideas which would come up at the meeting.”

Councilman Jefferson: He may be the decider

City Councilman Eugene JeffersonCouncilman Jefferson studies the facts and thinks things through before he makes decisions.

Mr. Jefferson's first response to how a search should be done was, "I'm in favor of going out for a full-fledged search. If she wants to apply, then she [interim City Manager Fields] has an opportunity to do that.”

Your reporter pointed out that the City is a monumental mess and asked if it might not be a good idea to give the interim manager a few months to straighten out the mess before going on a search, pointing out that there is no HR Director to run a search.

Mr. Jefferson said, "There is a lot to think about. I will review all the information, and you will have my decision on Monday evening."

Comments (to add a comment go here)

On July 12, 2021, former City Councilman Glenel Bowden wrote:

With the budget looming and other issues facing the City I think a 6 month delay would be prudent at this time.

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