Stew Lilker’s

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Befaithful Coker Robbed of City Council Seat: Lake City Makes Up the Rules as it Goes Along

Photo of the earth rising from the moon with caption: Lake City lost in space.
Image via Wikipedia via Pixabay | Columbia County Observer graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – Befaithful Coker met all the requirements to fill the vacated City Council seat of Chris Greene: she filed a council approved application; she stood before the Council and answered "all' the councilmen’s questions; by majority vote, the Council voted to appoint her to the seat; and she filed her sworn Oath of Office with the City Clerk. In the civilized world, that would have been enough. In Lake City: nope.


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.

Still, on October 18, 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.”

On Tuesday evening, October 26, the City Council met for its "do-over."

City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr., who recently announced his candidacy for Circuit Court Judge, provided more sketchy advice and legal analysis to the City Council.

On the Council’s sixth ballot, Councilman Eugene Jefferson moved to appoint Ms. Coker to the vacated seat of Mr. Greene.

The motion passed 3-1 with Councilman Sampson opposed.

Mayor Witt announced, "We have no further business. She will be sworn in on Monday [November 1] at the meeting. With that, we will be adjourned."

A vase of flowers in front of the seat which Ms. Coker was scheduled to fill.
Before the November 1 meeting began, one of Ms. Coker's supporters put a vase of flowers in front of the seat that she expected would be filled shortly.

Monday, November 1

Monday morning, November 1, Ms. Coker filed her notarized Oath of Office with City Clerk Audrey Skies. Ms. Sikes had previously provided the Oath. According to Ms. Coker, when she filed the Oath with the Clerk, she was told: "Only the City Clerk could give the Oath of Office."

There is nothing in any city rule, charter, or ordinance which requires the City Clerk to be the one to give the Oath to the person selected to fill a Council seat. Of course with that logic, if Ms. Sikes became unavailable for a meeting where someone was to take a seat, the seat would remain unfilled.

While the City Clerk, by City ordinance, was to have provided the minutes of the October 26 meeting to the Council, she appears not to have done that; additionally, the minutes were not on the agenda.

Before the meeting, Ms. Coker told your reporter that she had spoken with her attorney and was advised that he had spoken with the City Attorney. He didn't see any problems with the evening's meeting and that Ms. Coker would be taking her seat on the Council.

A little while before the meeting was gaveled to order, one of Ms. Coker’s supporters put a vase of flowers at Ms. Coker’s empty council seat.

At 6 pm, Mayor Witt gaveled the meeting to order.

After the ministerial task of approving minutes, public comments were heard, and the Council got down to business.

First on the evening’s agenda was an unnecessary resolution, provided by City Attorney Koberlein, to approve the previous approval of Ms. Coker to fill the vacated seat.

The second was the "Swearing-in Ceremony" of Ms. Coker.

Note:  Ms. Coker had already been appointed to the seat by the Council on October 26. If the City Clerk had obeyed the City's 3-day rule to provide the minutes, the minutes would have shown the Council had already appointed Ms. Coker to the seat.

City Attorney Koberlein read the title of the resolution: “A resolution of the City Council of the City of Lake City, Florida, appointing Befaithful Coker as Councilmember of District Fourteen in accordance with the City Charter; and providing an effective date.

The motion was moved and seconded.

Next, Mayor Witt asked for discussion, as is the practice and policy of the City Council.

Councilman Hill at the meeting.

Councilman Hill stated that he had "a change of heart" since the last meeting.

He said that it is "a known fact" that Ms. Coker had been arrested. He added nothing else, and it is not clear if Mr. Hill knew the arrest occurred way in the past and the case was dismissed.

The motion to approve the resolution to seat Ms. Coker failed 2-2, with Councilmen Sampson and Hill against.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) talks about Pre-Employment Inquiries and Arrest & Conviction:

The fact that an individual was arrested is not proof that he engaged in criminal conduct. Therefore, an individual's arrest record standing alone may not be used by an employer to take a negative employment action (e.g., not hiring, firing or suspending an applicant or employee). However, an arrest may trigger an inquiry into whether the conduct underlying the arrest justifies such action.

Earlier today your reporter asked Ms. Coker via text message: "your arrest case was dismissed: yes-no?"

Ms. Coker responded: "I was found not guilty of all charges"

Interestingly, years ago in another botched City Council interview process, that of the interview of then City Attorney candidate Fred Koberlein, Jr., no one asked if he was ever arrested or charged with any crimes, although the state required recording was so bollixed-up most of it was totally unintelligible.

Befaithful Coker straightens her papers as she preparse to leave the Council Chambers
Befaithful Coker straightens her papers as she prepares to leave the Council Chambers. Her children had already left.

The Bizzaro World of Lake City continued

Mayor Witt said, “All right, we’re back to square one."

Councilman Sampson said, “We’re back to where we were at the beginning."

Mr. Sampson recommended the City Clerk, Interim City Manager, and the City Attorney prepare a resolution for each candidate at the next meeting. He said, "At that meeting, we could make a selection, finish it there and go ahead and swear them in immediately…We need to have another special meeting."

Interim City Manager Mike Williams
Interim City Manager Mike Williams listens to the goings-on.

Your reporter asked, “Is that a motion?”

Mr. Sampson said he could make a motion.

The Mayor asked him to make the motion.

Mr. Sampson said, “I make a motion we have a special meeting, Monday, six o'clock; on the agenda we would add from the previous agenda, a second part which would be an approval for the resolution. Have a resolution prepared for each so that whatever we do in the first part, we can go right to the resolution and do the swearing-in thereafter."

Councilman Hill seconded the motion.

Mayor Witt said, “My concern now is who is even still in the pot?”

Councilman Jefferson wanted to know, "What procedure are we going to use?"

Mayor Witt said, "I think we need to reaffirm who is a candidate, and if somebody wants to apply, I think we have to take a new application."

Mr. Hill disagreed.

Looking for clarification, your reporter came to the microphone and was recognized by the Mayor.

"...whenever the last meeting was…this board voted by motion – these are facts – to appoint Befaithful Coker to the seat…That's a fact. There is nothing anywhere that I could find that makes it, so you get another bite at the apple – and Mr. Koberlein, the City Attorney, decides to come up with a resolution. The motion is tantamount to a resolution[the motion of October 26]. We don't need a resolution. And if you do, I'd like to know whatever statutory or thing about the charter says you do...You guys may have been led down the garden path. That motion on that night voted to put Ms. Coker on the board.

My understanding today is Ms. Coker filed her Oath of office.

The time to reconsider that motion was during the length of that meeting. That is pretty clear. I don't think anybody could dispute that -- not even Mr. Koberlein.

There may be other ways to do that, but you don't even know what the motion [the October 26 motion] is tonight because you folks don't have the minutes from that meeting, and the resolution is based on the minutes from that meeting. What I am suggesting to you is: that motion was that resolution.

The fact that Ms. Coker filed her Oath of office today, based on a legal vote by this board, would seem to me that there is a seat there, and her name should be on that seat…

You have a bunch of facts in front of you. Forget the lawsuit right now. You have a bunch of facts. You voted on a 3-1 vote to put Ms. Coker on the board. So, there is no resolution that's needed. The motion was comparable to the resolution; she filed her Oath of Office today. I've yet to see anything in the charter – and maybe Mr. Koberlein can help the community out on that -- that requires that Ms. Sikes give the Oath of office. Nothing. I haven't found anything in the charter.

I'm asking is that you guys consider this and consider the acts that you've done.

Community activist Vanessa George
Vanessa George addresses the City Council.

Community activist Vanessa George came to the microphone, was recognized, and said that if that is the case, Mr. Douglas should be the one filling the City Council seat.

Mayor Witt asked the City Attorney, “Mr. Koberlein, Do you have any comments?"

Mr. Koberlein responded, “I don’t have many comments, your honor." Mr. Koberlein said he agreed with Ms. George.

The Council unanimously approved a motion to have prepared three resolutions, one for each candidate, and swear one of them in at the next meeting.

What is the process for the Monday City Council Special Meeting?

Lake City, City Attorney Fred Koberlein, Jr.
By the end of the meeting, City Attorney Koberlein was looking more unhappy than ususal.

City Attorney Koberlein, the de facto parliamentarian for the City Council, and an announced candidate for Circuit Court Judge, offered no comments, suggestions, or guidance.

One could expect from past experience, Mr. Koberlein will be working the back channels.

Nobody is talking about the active court case in front of Chief Judge Mark Feagle, and it is expected that Ms. Coker will be heading to court, which in the civilized world, which is how people settle these kinds of disputes.

City Attorney Koberlein will have his chance to defend the Council's actions and his guidance at that time.


Stay tuned: Next Monday is on tap to be another Lake City popcorn night.

Lake City, the City that doesn't get embarrassed. 

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