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Befaithful Coker Fills Vacated Lake City, City Council Seat on Sixth Motion:  Stick-to-itiveness and a do-over paid dividends

Befaithful Coker at the meeting's conclusion, with daughter Victoria and son Michael.
Befaithful Coker at the meeting's conclusion, with daughter Victoria and son Michael.
Insert: Victoria on July 11, 2010 | Columbia County Observer photos and graphic.

LAKE CITY, FL – On Tuesday evening, October 26, Befaithful Coker demonstrated that stick-to-itiveness pays dividends as she became only the second woman Lake City Council member of the 21st century. It was a cliffhanger until the very end. Ms. Coker proved both the local mainstream media and her critics wrong when Lake City's remaining four Council members voted 3-1 to have her fill the seat suddenly vacated by Chris Greene on September 9.


On September 9, 2021, City Councilman Chris Greene resigned from the City Council.

By October 9, 2021, the City had received five applications to fill the vacated seat.

On October 13, 2021, after a secret ballot, the City Council voted to fill the seat with Stephen A. Douglas.

Councilmember secret ballots are against the Florida Sunshine Law.

On Monday afternoon, October 18, City Council Candidate Befaithful Coker sued the City for Sunshine Law violation and other things. Ms. Coker also asked for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to keep Mr. Douglas from being installed. A TRO requires an immediate Court hearing in front of a judge.

Ms. Coker never received her hearing on her request for a temporary restraining order.

Under the threat of Ms. Coker’s lawsuit and a deal worked out with Ms. Coker’s attorney, the Council did not install Stephen Douglas and instead decided to do a “do-over.”

This do-over is what the City Council did on Tuesday evening.

Tuesday Night October 26: City Attorney Gives instructions that mirror case law on other Florida "secret ballot" cases; tells Council there is no “formula.”

The City Council convened at 6 pm and received twenty minutes of public comments about the candidates. It also heard from candidate Ricky Jernigan.

Mayor Witt turned the meeting over to City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., to explain what was going on.

City Attorney Koberlein addressed the City Council:

“You're here tonight to conduct a full reevaluation of the applicants for the vacant District 14 seat. On October 18, you decided to have a new meeting to conduct a reevaluation; incurred in that decision was the determination that it's in the City's best interests, as well as the citizens’ best interest, to have a new meeting. It's more efficient than being a successful defendant in a lawsuit. So, tonight you should conduct a meaningful evaluation and a meaningful discussion of the applicants.”

Mr. Koberlein continued:

“Unfortunately, neither the legislature or [sic] the courts have given us one formula to tell us what a meaningful evaluation and discussion is. I can tell you what it's not. It's not a rubber stamp of any prior meetings.”

City Attorney Fred Koberlein during the October 18 City Council meeting.
City Attorney Fred Koberlein during the October 18 City Council meeting.

The City Attorney may not have read the relevant case law or just ignored what he told Ms. Coker's Attorney he was going to have the City Council do.

Mr. Koberlein then reminded the Council, “The rules of your meetings allow you to have discussions before a motion is on the table. So you are free to discuss items and then ultimately have a motion, a second, and to conduct a vote.”

He added, “If you need any guidance along the way, obviously I'll be -- unintelligible.”

The City Attorney has caused such confusion on the Council that none of them grasp the rules they go by, and neither does the public.

The Discussion

City Councilman Jake HillCouncilman Hill said, “Both Ricky [Jernigan] and Be [Faithful Coker] have put their time in coming to Council meetings. No offense, Mr. Douglas [Candidate Stephen Douglas], I think I may have seen you at a Council meeting once…."

Mr. Hill said Mr. Jernigan had made the effort to run. He said, “I support Mr. Jernigan because of what the people say.”

Mr. Hill also recognized that Ms. Coker had campaigned and spent money to run for the council seat.

Mayor Witt acknowledged that Abbie Chasteen withdrew her name for consideration, adding, he didn’t think it was necessary to “re-interview everybody.”

Councilman Sampson commented that one could watch the meetings online. Mr. Sampson didn’t think that the interviews had to be redone. He said, “I would make a motion that we would have a nomination and a vote. I think we should do our discussion first.”

The Discussion and Nominations

Councilman Eugene JeffersonCouncilman Hill nominated Ricky Jernigan, adding he believes “people should show up to be considered.”

Councilman Jefferson said Ms. Coker and Mr. Jernigan showed up at meetings.

Councilman Sampson said, “We have a $60 mil budget to run. In my opinion, who will be the best person to help us make decisions long-term for the City?

Councilman Hill made a motion to appoint Mr. Jernigan.

Councilman Jefferson seconded it.

Councilmen Jefferson and Hill: “Yes.”

Councilman Sampson and Mayor Witt: “No.”

It takes three votes to approve the candidate.

The motion failed.

Councilman Jefferson made a motion to appoint Ms. Coker.

Councilmen Jefferson and Hill: “Yes.”

Councilman Sampson and Mayor Witt: “No.”

Councilman Sampson made a motion to appoint Stephen Douglas.

Councilman Sampson and Mayor Witt: “Yes.”

Councilmen Jefferson and Hill: “No.”

Councilman Hill made another motion to appoint Mr. Jernigan.

Councilmen Jefferson and Hill: “Yes.”

Councilman Sampson and Mayor Witt: “No.”

Councilman Sampson made another motion to appoint Stephen Douglas.

Councilmen Jefferson and Hill: “No.”

Councilman Sampson and Mayor Witt: “Yes.”

Motion – Nomination No. 6 is the "charm"

Ann Douglass Skinner congradulates Befaithful Coker
North Florida icon Ann Douglass Skinner, a woman who advised governors, smiled for the first time in two months as she congradulated Ms. Coker.

Councilman Jefferson made another motion to appoint Ms. Coker.

Councilman Jefferson: “Yes.”

Councilman Hill: “Yes.”

Councilman Sampson: “No.”

Mayor Witt: “Yes.”

Folks gasped, a few clapped, and Ms. Coker got teary and gave her daughter Victoria a kiss.

Mayor Witt closed the show: "We have no further business. She will be sworn in on Monday at the meeting. With that, we will be adjourned."


Interim City Manager Mike Williams congradulates Ms. Coker.

Late yesterday, County Manager David Krause told the Observer: “I’m looking forward to working with Ms. Coker on the projects we are sharing. She has always been professional and prepared.

The County's Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter told the Observer: "I look forward to working with her. She is a go-getter. I have had some conversations with her in the past, and I know that economic development is one of her priorities."

Interim City Manager Mike Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

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