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Lake City News

Councilman Greene Leads Sneak Attack to Cancel Budget Workshop; Important Issues Pushed Aside; Public & Employees Left in the Lurch

Lake City Councilman Chris Greene
Columbia County Observer photos and graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – The malaise facing Lake City continues where a lack of leadership from the City Council has Lake City reeling directionless. With a room full of citizens and city workers looking forward to addressing the City's important fiscal issues, Councilman Greene got sideways because his tentative City taxes increased by $26.59.


On July 19, 2021, Councilman Greene “made a motion to approve the TRIM Budget as described by Finance Director Donna Duncan.” (July 19, 2021 minutes). The motion passed unanimously. Councilman Hill was absent.

A look at the minutes of July 19 reveals that neither Mr. Greene nor anyone else gave the City administration any direction.

On August 16, the day before the budget workshop Councilman Greene and most other city and county residents received their TRIM (truth in millage) notice from the property appraiser’s office.

Mr. Greene showed up at the budget workshop with what he purported to be that notice. He did not give anyone copies.

Budget Workshop Gets Underway

Ami Fields, Interim Lake City City Manager
Interim City Manager Ami Fields didn't say one word during the meeting, missing an opportunity to stand up for the finance department, which cobbled together the budget.

Mayor Witt introduced the meeting, "We're fixin' to do our budget for the fiscal year 2022. I thought what we'd do; if it's OK with Council, we can start out with some comments from the Council about their thoughts on the budget, and then we'll start with the staff and start going through the budget. Anybody want to make any comments before the staff starts."

Councilman Sampson spoke up. “I am absolutely not in favor of raising Ad Valorem taxes. The way the City needs to raise property tax revenue is stimulating growth.”

He then gave a basketful of budget recommendations. Mr. Sampson’s recommendations, from his prepared remarks, are here.

He claimed his recommendations would reduce the budget by $1,000,000.

Councilman Greene: He doesn’t want a workshop.
He doesn't know what a workshop is.

Councilman Greene, after a few comments about the millage rate, said, "I would recommend that we send this budget back to the administration and we reschedule these workshops, and we allow the administration to build a budget based on the current millage rate of 4.9000 percent. I will not support a tax increase."

Lake City Mayor Steven Witt
Mayor Witt listens to Mr. Greene.

Mr. Greene continued, "We're not talking about trimming around the edges as we have done in the past. This isn't about let's cancel subscriptions or training or travel. This is wholesale change that needs to take place... I would be in favor of postponing the workshop… which is what the taxpayers of the City deserve."

City Council members are prohibited from discussing among themselves the issues which will be coming before the Council.

Mayor Witt, without any resistance or comment, says, "OK."

Councilman Jefferson said, “I support that.”

Councilman Hill said, “I won’t support a tax increase on the citizens.”

Mr. Hill did not request canning the workshop.

Long-time Finance Director Donna Duncan explained the millage rates. It is not clear if Misters Greene, Jefferson, and Witt knew what she was talking about.

Councilman Greene Holds Up His TRIM Notice

Councilman Greene holds up his TRIM notice: "This is from my house. I see the current millage rate of 4.9000, and under that millage rate, Chris Greene is going to pay a little over two-hundred bucks. At that rollback rate that we just talked about, the 4.9253, I'm gonna pay over three hundred dollars. And then at what this budget is built on, I'm gonna pay even more than that… 4.9000 is the millage rate. I think the citizens deserve a budget built off of that millage rate."

Councilman Chris Greene's TRIM notice information
                                                                                                                     ++ enlarge

A look at Mr. Greene’s TRIM notice shows that he did not tell the truth when he said, “Chris Greene is going to pay a little over two-hundred bucks.”

At the 4.9000 rate, he is paying $285.35. In most other people's worlds, that would not be “a little over two-hundred bucks.”

Mr. Greene did not distribute a copy of his TRIM notice.

After some discussion, Mr. Sampson said, "If the City would pursue a growth mode and try to get the tax base higher, then we could actually – almost cut this in half in a couple of years. Instead, we're going to sit here and deny growth… I think with the savings I have, we can get to the 4.9000. Us 5 voted to send out the notice at the higher rate."

Mayor Witt announced, “We vote on the budget on September 7, so we would have to have the budget before then.”

Lake City Finance Director Donna Duncan
Finance Director Explains millage to the City Council

Finance Director Duncan said, “We can make adjustments to that budget… There are things we can do that will make it balanced either way. But if there is something in there, contained in this or not; you want to put something in or take something out; we kinda need to know what that is.”

Ignoring Finance Director Duncan’s remarks, Greene said, “I would be available on the 30th.”

Council meetings have seemed to revolve around Councilman Greene's work schedule for some time. Meeting dates and times have been adjusted not to conflict with Mr. Greene's schedule.

Councilman Hill: “Time for this crap to stop”

This rubbed Councilman Hill the wrong way. He said, "Mr. Mayor, again, since Mr. Greene has been on this Council, everything has been scheduled around his schedule. It's time for a change… If Mr. Greene can't make that meeting [the Thursday meeting], we need to have that meeting. Everybody else in here schedule can be changed. But Mr. Greene, I guess with his job -- whatever, if you can't be here -- the meeting is always scheduled when he can be here. It's time for this crap to stop."

Mayor Witt said, "Well, we've always worked with everybody's schedule."

Mr. Greene said Councilman Hill wasn’t at Monday’s meeting. He was.

The City Clerk whispered something to the Mayor. It is not clear why she didn't speak into the microphone. While technically, this may not have been a violation of the Sunshine law, it is bad practice. The Clerk works for the whole Council.

Mayor Witt asked City Attorney Koberlein, “Mr. Koberlein, how can we continue the meeting until the 30th?”

It is not clear why Mayor Witt, an attorney, and long-time Mayor, did not know how to continue the workshop to a time and date certain.

City Attorney Fred Koberlein:
A self-proclaimed municipal law expert weighs in

Fred Koberlein, Jr. - a man who want to be a judge
City Attorney Koberlein makes another trip to his laptop. He doesn't seem to know anyting without checking first.

Attorney Koberlein said, “I have to go back and look at the rules.”

Mainstream media reporter Tony Britt asked Mr. Koberlein to speak into the microphone, “Mr. Koberlein, can you speak into the microphone. Can't hear you with the air conditioning.”

Attorney Koberlein is famous for not being able to be understood. Now that he wants to become a judge, he at least pays attention when he can’t be heard.

After a while, Mr. Koberlein said, "Mayor, in ordinance 21-217, I don't find anything there… I cannot find anything that would be in opposition of the rules of the Council or Robert's rules of order."

There is no ordinance 21-217.

Mayor Witt asks, “Mr. Greene, is that a motion to continue to August 30?”

Mr. Greene responds, “Yes, Mayor, I would make a motion that we continue the workshop on August 30 and provide the city manager with the direction to present a budget based on the current millage rate of 4.000% [4.9000].

Councilman Jefferson seconded.

Moving Out of the Sunshine
A 12th hour sneak attack

Mayor Witt said, "We've reviewed the budget, and we've worked on it ourselves, and I had my ideas, and I know everybody else does too, that we (unintelligible) together, and any changes you want to send to Ms. Fields so they can work with that and not maybe (unintelligible) -- you know -- surprised on August 30."

Those changes could have been recommended at the workshop in the Sunshine, instead of in the shadows in City Hall.

City Councilman Todd Sampson
Councilman Todd Sampson had a basket full of budget suggestions and opposed canceling the workshop and moving the process into the darkness.

Mr. Sampson said, “So we are talking about a $59 million budget… Is there nothing that we can discuss now to try and get direction going forward? We've got people here ready to discuss the budget. We are ready to discuss the budget. I spent tons of time going through this thing. Here we are in a workshop that has been scheduled for a while and noticed, and we can't discuss the budget. The whole prep work was to discuss the budget.”

Councilman Hill weighed in, "Instead of this being Lake City's City Council, we're gonna change to Councilman Greene Council.”

What is known as SB50 in 2013 gave the public the right to speak on a proposition before the City Council.

The Florida Association of Counties, referring to SB50, wrote: Don't be sneaky. When in Doubt, let them spout; maintain reasonable order.

Your reporter went to the microphone and addressed the Council, reminding them of SB50 and opposing the 12th hour sneak attack by Councilman Green, Jefferson, and Mayor Witt to shut down the meeting.

The Public’s Right to be Heard: Not in Lake City

Your reporter:  “Wo – wo. I’d like to make a comment.”

Councilman Greene: “Mister Mayor, this is a workshop.”

Mayor Witt:  “This is a workshop.”

Your reporter:  “You’re making a motion and a vote. This wasn’t on the agenda. Mr. Koberlein – SB 50 – how about a decision here?”

Mayor Witt:  "There's nothin' for public comments at a workshop."

Your reporter: “You are making a motion. The public is certainly being affected by this. The city staff is being affected by this. The agencies are being affected by this. Clearly, everybody in the room has the right to make a statement on a proposition before the City Council, before the board. This is what you are doing right now.”

Councilman Greene interjected, without permission to speak or being recognized:  “Although Mr. Lilker has been advised that we're not taking comments -- he's allowed to comment.”

Your reporter:  “Come on, Chris, let's cut that stuff out.”

Mayor Witt:  “No comments.”

Your reporter: “There are no comments at all?”

Mayor Witt:  “No”

Your reporter: “You ask the attorney for everything else. What about asking him about this? He's looking at his laptop now. Why don't you ask him for a legal opinion now? That's what he gets paid for.”

Mayor Witt: “We don’t have public comments on the agenda.”

Your reporter: “You made a motion. There was nothing on the agenda about changing anything regarding this meeting or future meetings.”

Mayor Witt: “Right”

Your reporter:  “That’s pretty disrespectful to the public.”

Community activist Sylvester Warren came to the microphone and intruded, saying, "I agree with Stew.”

Your reporter sat down. It got ugly between Mr. Warren and Councilman Greene.

With a room full of people expecting a budget workshop, the Council voted 3-2 to full stop the workshop and reconvene on August 30 at 4 pm. (Mr. Sampson and Mr. Hill voted against postponing the workshop).

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