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Lake City, FL – New Police Chief, New Fire Chief: How Did That Happen?

Interim Lake City City Manager listens to public comments.
Interim City Manager Paul Dyal listens to a speaker during the March 21 Council meeting.

widget-city-manager-storiesLAKE CITY, FL – Last Monday evening, Lake City’s infamous City Council met. At the helm of Lake City’s public safety departments were a new Police Chief and a new Fire Chief. On the evening’s agenda: zero-zip-nada, not a single word about the appointments.


A former high placed City official opined about Mr. Dyal's appointments:

"They wanted to get their guys in place before the new City Manager was hired."

Lake City has been without an assistant city manager since the resignation of Dan Sweat in March 2021.

Lake City has been without a permanent city manager since the departure of Joe Helfenberger in July of 2021.

Lake City had been without permanent police and fire chiefs since November and September of last year, respectively.

Interim City Manager Mike Williams, who left in December, chose to leave those positions vacant for the next permanent city manager.

On December 22, 2021, Utility Director Paul Dyal was installed as interim city manager effective December 31 at 5 pm.

Mr. Dyal was on the record that he would leave major decisions and appointments to the next city manager.

The First Ten Weeks of Paul Dyal’s Reign as Interim: Silence

Between January and the second week in March 2022, Interim City Manager Dyal took full command of Lake City's government. He had all the decision-making power of any city manager. He was part of the City group that cobbled together City Council agendas and could have put himself on any agenda to advise the Council and public about any issue he chose.

Mr. Dyal never mentioned any downside to the interim police and fire chief  positions.

On Friday afternoon, March 18, at 12:46 pm, Interim City Manager Dyal sent an email to City Clerk Audrey Sikes asking her to send an email to the City Council with the following message:

Subject: New Police and Fire Chief

I wanted to let everyone know that Gerald Butler was selected to be the City's new Police Chief and that Joshua Wehinger was selected to be the City's new Fire Chief. I have confidence that they will excel in their new roles and responsibilities, and I want to personally wish them well.

After the Clerk notified Mr. Dyal that she had sent his email, Mr. Dyal sent the email to the City Directors.

There were no press releases announcing Mr. Dyal’s appointments.

Last Monday Night: No Official Announcement – Not a Word

Former City Councilman Glenel Bowden addressed the City Council. He said, “I read in the paper this weekend the interim City Manager had decided to appoint a permanent police chief and fire chief… It may prove problematic for the next city manager when he or she come on board and have to deal with someone who was appointed as interim police chief by the interim city manager… That position should have remained vacant until you got a city manager.”

Sylvester Warren
Sylvester Warren (file)

Community Activist Sylvester Warren followed Mr. Bowden: "I had a conversation with Paul (Interim City Manager Paul Dyal)… Nothin' about the process was transparent… He said he would not make a major decision and fill in those positions – he would leave that to the permanent city manager…."

Mr. Warren continued, “Why when Ami Fields (the first Interim City Manager) and different other people were here (there was only one other – Mike Williams), you were hell-bent on not fillin' those positions… I think Paul said there was only two applicants…."

Mayor Witt reminded Mr. Warren that he had used up his time.

Mr. Warren said, “It’s your show – it’s your world.”

Your reporter addressed the City Council, “I have a couple of questions about the hiring of the police chief and the fire chief.”

Your reporter reminded the Council that he learned from attending meetings that Mr. Dyal wasn’t going to appoint anybody.

Your reporter said, “I don't know if he shared this with any of you; if he did and he polled the board, that's illegal… I would like to know from Mr. Dyal… What was the rush to not give the [new] city manager his chance to appoint a police chief and a fire chief? I would like to know his reasoning behind it. Thank you very much, your honor.”

As your reporter walked away from the microphone, he said, "You could ask him."

Councilman Todd Sampson
City Councilman Todd Sampson is usually talkative. When the subject of the new appointments came up, he looked down.

Mayor Witt looked down and instead asked for the approval of the consent agenda.

Neither Interim City Manager Dyal nor any member of the City Council volunteered a single word.

Councilman Sampson Speaks: After the Meeting

As your reporter left the meeting, Councilman Sampson was in the back of the room chatting with Police Chief Butler and LCPD Lieutenant Andy Miles. Your reporter remarked, “Nobody believes he [Dyal] just did that without any direction.”

Councilman Sampson replied, “That’s his prerogative.”

Later, in a phone conversation with Councilman Jake Hill, Mr. Hill said, “Nobody spoke to me. I didn’t know about this until tonight.”

Interim City Manager Paul Dyal Explains

In a phone conversation later on in the evening, Mr. Dyal explained.

Your reporter began, “They had a chance to let you say something this evening. Nobody believes you made this decision after you had a dream and then woke up. What suddenly made you change your mind?”

Mr. Dyal said, “I don’t have anything to hide. I didn’t discuss anything with the Council. I hadn’t said anything to any of them. They found out when I sent out the email.”

“I think I did say some time ago that I wasn't going to make any changes, but this is dragging on and on, and I am getting tired of the interims. They need to make some changes; they need to put some staff in place. I agree with in-line promotions. We did advertise it for a few days in-house and out. I figured it was time we had some stability in the City."

Your reporter asked, "You don't think the new city manager should have had the option to hire his police and fire chief?"

Mr. Dyal said, "At this point, you're looking at a minimum of two months. I'm tired of the inconsistencies; I want stability in these departments. I thought I'd try to do what was best for the City."

Your reporter responded, “The interims have the full authority of the chiefs, so, what instability was there? Butler could have done anything he wanted, as could Wehinger, right?"

Mr. Dyal answered, "Yeah. If the new city manager comes in and doesn't like what I've done, he can feel free to change whatever he wants."

The Observer: “Thank you for returning my call.”

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