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Lake City News


LC City Manager Search: Mayor Steve Witt – Did He Have a Hidden Search Agenda?

Lake City Mayor Steve Witt and Paul Dyal
Photos: Columbia County Observer | Columbia County Observer graphic

widget-city-manager-storiesLAKE CITY, FL – For quite some time, Lake City Mayor Steve Witt has acknowledged that Lake City has been a laughing stock of Florida. His recent actions in the year-long helter-skelter city manager search have done nothing to dispel his characterization.


On June 6, 2022, after a nine-month roller coaster ride with Head Hunter Renee Narlock, the City terminated her contract.

The June 6, 2022, Council meeting was another City mess. After Councilman Todd Sampson indicated he would sit all night until the Council made a decision on Ms. Narlock, the Council finally agreed to terminate her contract and hire Head Hunter Colin Baenziger.

City procurement was to reach out the Mr. Baenziger and inquire if he was still interested.

On June 9, three days later, city procurement reached out to Mr. Baenziger and asked if he would honor his proposal of August 2021.

In his response to the City, Mr. Baenziger wrote: “Our prices have gone up a bit, and frankly, the most recent recruiting effort does not help the situation.”

On June 14, 2022, Mr. Baenziger sent the City a letter of engagement with only a slight bump up in price.

On June 20, 2022, the City Council voted approval of the agreements with Colin Baenziger & Associates.

Fifteen days later, on July 5, Colin Baenziger advised the City that his “firm remains very interested in assisting Lake City with its City Manager Search... I am not trying to push you into a quick decision.”

Mr. Baenziger advised the City, “If the City approves us to conduct the search, we can begin around the 19th or 20th of the month [July].

The Council had initially approved Mr. Baenziger on June 6. By July 5, he had still not received the June 20 approved resolution and contract.

More delay.

It is not clear when Mr. Baenziger received the contract. However, on August 8, four days after the August 4 City Council meeting, he advised the City that he was putting his search on hold while the City figured out what it would do.

August 4: Special City Council Meeting
Mayor Witt Throws a Curve Ball

Out of the blue, at the August 4 Special City Council meeting, Mayor Witt had a surprise announcement for the City Council.

Mayor Witt explained why he asked the City Clerk to put a “discussion and possible action” item on the agenda. As usual with these kinds of items, with Mayor Witt and Interim City Manager Dyal, no supporting information is provided to the City Council or the public.

The possible action(s), as usual, were not elaborated.

Mayor Witt said, “I asked Ms. Sikes to put this on the agenda because we are moving along.”

Mayor Witt explained that he had received a call from Mr. Lynch, who had previously said he wanted to come in for an interview.

What is “moving along?”

Mayor Witt explained, "I spoke with Mr. Dyal, and we discussed the process, and where we're at and how long it's going to be, and I've asked him if he would be willing to consider being the permanent city manager, and he recently told me he would."

The Mayor didn't reveal how long he had been in talks with Mr. Dyal.

Getting times and dates from Lake City and Columbia County are chronic systemic problems. Both municipalities leave out dates, names, circumstances, etc. The Lake Shore Hospital Authority and Dale Williams Are also notorious for this.

Mayor Witt said, "I didn't ask for a resume; I didn't ask –unintelligible- because he's got an interview for the last six months. Is that correct, Mr. Dyal? You would be interested in it?”

Mr. Dyal responded, “I've always said I serve at the pleasure of the Council. I'm starting eight months in this position of what was supposed to be 4 to 6 weeks. We're in the middle of a lot of things. The budget and everything else; a lot of restructuring. If it's the pleasure of the Council and I have the support of not only the Council, but a lot of the community, I'd be willing to continue on.”

Mr. Dyal did not elaborate on how we would measure the community's support.

Mr. Dyal did not mention is resignations or his threats to leave the City.

As the godfathers that run Columbia County coalesce, it is clear that he has their support and possible encouragement.

Mayor Witt said, "OK. That’s kinda where we’re at.”

After some brief remarks misstating Mr. Dyal's relationship with the County, Mayor Witt asked for a motion to appoint Mr. Dyal -- right then and there -- as the next city manager of Lake City.

Councilman Hill made the motion. When the Mayor asked for a second, the Council was silent.

After a long pause, Mayor Witt said, "I'll second it -- any discussion?” This was only the third time in his long tenure as Mayor that he seconded a motion.

Councilman Hill said he thought Mr. Dyal was doing a good job. He did not ask for a resume, a job application, or anything else.

Councilman Jefferson said, " I think this is – well, with Mr. Dyal wanting to continue to serve, and I agree with Mr. Hill,  Mr. Dyal's done a superb job… I will continue to support Mr. Dyal. I would like to, if at all possible, bring this back before Council at our next meeting. I haven't had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Dyal."

Mayor Witt responded, “I understand that. Tonight, I just wanted to bring up where we’re at.”

The Mayor did not explain how just wanting “to bring up where we’re at” translated into making a motion to install Mr. Dyal as the permanent city manager.

Apparently, Mr. Jefferson did understand and responded to the Mayor, “I agree."

Councilman Sampson did not understand, nor did he agree. He said, “When an item is on the agenda without supporting documents, it leaves a gap and a hole… We have a head hunter that's working now, Mr. Baenziger… I think we should exhaust all avenues.”

Councilman Jefferson said he wouldn't want to hire a city manager without the headhunter being aware.

Mayor Witt didn't miss a beat.

He asked, "Mr. Jefferson, with your comment, do you make a motion to table this until the next meeting?"

Mr. Jefferson said, “I will. I make a motion to table it until our next meeting.”

Notwithstanding the City's continuing screw-ups with Robert's rules, the motion passed unanimously.

Mayor Witt concluded the conversation. He said, "That was my point -- just to bring it up.”

Mayor Witt did not explain how “just bringing it up" morphed into making a motion to hire Mr. Dyal immediately.

City Clerk Audrey Sikes asked what information the City Council would like to see in the agenda packet for the next meeting.

Only Councilman Sampson responded, saying, "I haven't thought that far in advance. I just found out about it in the last five minutes."

The Plot Thickens
Other Candidates for City Manager

On June 7, 2022, David Lynch of Ohio emailed the City and said he would come to Lake City on his dime for an interview.

On August 4, 2022, Mr. Lynch updated his letter to the City. Mr. Lynch’s updated information made it into the 12th-hour agenda prepared by the City Clerk at 8 pm this past Friday, August 12. Mr. Lynch’s email providing the updated information did not make it into the agenda material.

City Clerk Sikes did not violate any City rules with her 12th-hour agenda preparation. The City Council has refused to give the Clerk any deadlines for agenda preparation other than – 'she gets it done when she gets it done.'

On August 8, 2022, Christopher Esing emailed the City complaining about the City Manager's hiring process. Inadvertently, Mr. Esing outed the City's failure to advise Colin Baenziger that his contract had been approved.

Mr. Esing wrote:” It seems that it is impossible to apply to [for] the position if it has not been listed, and the City is not willing to finalize contracts and paperwork on their end.”

The Friday 12th hour agenda packet provides much information about Interim City Manager Paul Dyal.

It does not include the grievance filed by two women in the procurement department.

When this reporter inspected Mr. Dyal's file, the grievance was not there. Neither was the outside law firm's absolving Mr. Dyal, which had suddenly appeared.

Reaching Out to the Candidates

This weekend, your reporter called the three added City Manager candidates on the agenda: Mr. Esing, Mr. Lynch, and Mr. Rosenthal."

Mr. Lynch and Mr. Rosenthal returned the call; Mr. Esing did not.

On Sunday, August 14, Mr. Lynch told your reporter, “I have examined the finances and demographics of Lake City, and I feel with my experience, I am the person that can best prepare the City to be successful in taking advantage of the new federal dollars coming down the pike.”

Your reporter asked Mr. Lynch about his management philosophy. He said, "My philosophy is to run a government at the highest level of integrity."

Mr. Lynch said he is available on 48 hours' notice to be interviewed by the City Council.

Mr. Lynch is a member of the ICMA mafia.

On Sunday, your reporter spoke with Don Rosenthal, former Assistant County Manager of Pasco County.

Mr. Rosenthal explained that while at Pasco County, besides being the Assistant County Manager, he also served as the Commercial Redevelopment Project Liaison, a newly created economic development position.

Mr. Rosenthal said, “This division had four departments and 15 divisions, employing 430 individuals.”

In Columbia County/Lake City, this would be economic development-growth management on steroids.

Mr. Rosenthal said, "I am excited about the prospect of meeting face-to-face with the City Council. I am available for an interview on 48 hours' notice.”

Mr. Rosenthal said he had emailed information to Lake City on Thursday, but couldn't find the email.

It turned out the information was sent to the City on Friday in time to be added to the agenda, but it got kicked back because the file was too large.

This morning Mr. Rosenthal said he would be resending the information. In a brief conversation with the Clerk, Ms. Sikes said she would include it in the agenda when received.

Mr. Rosenthal is also a member of the ICMA mafia.


The Lake City City Council meets at 6 PM for its regularly scheduled meeting.

Mayor Witt's 12th-hour nomination of Paul Dyal speaks for itself.

The City Council has the opportunity to continue down the back alley path it's been on since the Civil War, or it can decide to interview the new city manager candidates, two of whom would be a fresh start. We have no information on Mr. Esing.

The Lake City saga continues.

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