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Richardson Community Center: City Council Doesn’t Buckle Under To County 5 Extortion

Councilwoman Chevella Young with headline: Richardson will not shut down. We have to stand up. We are stronger than this.
Photo: Chevella Young - file photo | Columbia County Observer graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – Yesterday evening in City Hall, the City Council did not buckle under to the extortion threat of an antebellum era County Commission (the County 5) which had previously failed to recognize the unique needs of the Lake City’s Richardson Community Center or the people that it serves.


Previously, on March 23, 2023, the County 5 (The 5 or the County Commission), after a string of incidents at the Richardson Community Center, gave the City a unanimous ultimatum regarding the conditions under which it would accept the deed for the Richardson Community Center from the City of Lake City.

The County 5, after 15 minutes of debate, crosstalk, and some barely comprehensible speeches, voted on a motion that was attributed to Commissioner Ronald Williams, the 40-year-plus commissioner of District 1, wherein the Richardson Community Center resides.

As recorded by the County Clerk: “MOTION by Commissioner Williams to accept deed from the City of Lake City with the condition that the City agrees to provide the County with 150K yearly. SECOND by Commissioner Hollingsworth. The motion carried unanimously.

Before the County 5 vote, Commissioner Tim Murphy summed up the reason for conditional acceptance of the Richardson deed from Lake City [as spoken]:

$150,000 is a gift in, as we all know, there ain't been one discussion on the floor of City Council about any type of donation whatsoever. And that's why, you know, we got the support of three Councilman that said, you know, give it to -- the give the deed to the County, but we need that caveat. We need that comfort for them to come to the table and say, you know, okay, well, you know, we understand what you're sayin', you know, bring (unintelligible), but y'all know as well I do -- everybody sittin' at this counter. Been a lot of stuff talked when it gets over here to that meetin', it changes real quick.

County Attorney Joel Foreman explained the $150,000, “We're going to extend that as the condition… Mr. Kraus and I will get together, We'll draft up a notice explaining your decision, and we'll hand deliver it to Mr. Dyal tomorrow morning. We'll need to get it done pretty quick."

By March 27, a letter was drawn up and delivered to Lake City. The letter began: “As I am sure you have read in media coverage of the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on March 23, 2023, the Board has agreed to take title to Richardson Community Center on the condition that the City commit no less than $150,000.00 per year to continuing recreation programs at the center.”

The County's "Home Town" newspaper, the Lake City Reporter, misreported the County 5 motion, starting a string of miscommunication and backroom dealing.

Florida’s Sunshine laws work when folks pay attention to them.

Last Night in City Hall

Glennel BowdenFormer City Councilman Glenel Bowden explained to the City Council how Richardson went from being “just a gym” to “a recreation center,” based on a lawsuit filed by the NAACP in 1978.

Mr. Bowden explained that the “government was forced to” upgrade Richardson because “we were not being treated fairly.” (file photo)

Mr. Bowden continued, “I am of the opinion that the young people of this community are not being treated with the same type of respect that they should be treated with."

Mr. Bowden concluded, “The City should be concerned about what's gonna be offered at the center. Not that they got a big generator out there – It’s what's being offered.” (Glennel Bowden: file photo)

Former school board member Linard Johnson said the City should pay the $150k to the County. “The City should jump on it,” he said.

Glynell Presley
Glynell Presley, Columbia County and North Florida icon (file photo)

Columbia County icon Glynell Presley came to the microphone. He questioned the $2,000,000 grant to improve Richardson Community Center that the City Council turned down.

Mayor Witt said the grant was “still in limbo.”

Mr. Presley said he agreed with Linard Johnson and asked, “What happens if we can’t work out a deal with the County? What happens to Richardson?”

No one on the Council responded.

Mr. Presley said, “I can tell you what's going to happen. There is no Richardson.”

Mr. Presley continued, “I’m here for the young people in Lake City and Columbia County. Somebody needs to speak to them, and I'm here to do that… I hope that you see clear to support the boys and girls of Columbia County. Thank you so much.”

Councilwoman Chevella Young addressed the Council: “I'm speaking on behalf of the district as well as the young people in this community. I first want to say, I keep hearing what the City cannot do. The City doesn't have the money. You all are calling us broke. And then the County is asking for money. We're not broke… Guess what? We’ll find money for the Richardson Community Center. It will not shut down.”

Vanessa George addressed the City Council: “People ask, ‘What’s our contribution?’ Our contribution is the building – is the facilities… We are already paying for these services with the County when we City residents pay our taxes… It seems like the County is trying to take money from us and trying to break the City… if you give them money, that does not guarantee programs. They had the facility for how many years? We don't have any programs.”

Councilwoman Young mentioned that under the ($2 mil) COVID grant, "We cannot deed Richardson to the County." There are conflicting opinions about that in Tallahassee. The City needs to accept that grant, which some believe was turned down because City Manager Paul Dyal didn't want to do the work necessary to facilitate the grant.

Councilman Jake HillCouncilman Jake Hill weighted in [abridged]: When the City had the deed, the County asked the City for not one red cent. When the City agreed to give the County the deed, they're gonna turn around and jack us for $150,000. That's wrong. I'm not goin’ for that. But I am willing to help support the recreation at Richardson Community Center. It’s not going to be not on what they want. It’s what the City can do. We can come together and see what the City can afford to do. Outside of that – no.

(Jake Hill: file photo)

Councilwoman Young made a motion: “We send a letter back to the County -- stamped no,” adding, “We will not give you $150,000.”

Councilman Hill said, “I’m willin’ to work with them if the city can control the money that we're gonna give to recreation."

Councilman Sampson said, “I agree with a lot of the speakers. We don't need to cut a check to the County in any amount. If we do decide to fund programs, programs will be funded by city dollars… The community needs to decide what the programs are.”

Mr. Sampson recommended having a counter-proposal. "We will say we will support programs at Richardson because it's the right thing to do… We will control that money."

Mr. Sampson recommend the City provide $50k this year.

Mayor Witt said he agreed with Mr. Sampson. “Those programs are necessary.”

Finally, Councilman Hill seconded Councilwoman Young’s motion.

Councilwoman Young said the City should not use the County as an example of a way to run the community center. "If we're sitting here saying 'we're not impressed,' why would you go and follow the same pattern?.... If we decide to do the programs -- I'm fine with that. But I just don’t like – We’re not that weak. We have to stand up. We’re stronger than this.”

Councilman Sampson said, “I think it's dereliction of our duty not to make the County pay the operational expenses of Richardson like they're paying every other community center. Why should we take all that expense for the whole City when we're county residents too? To me, they need to continue making the operational expense.”

City Attorney Todd Kennon tried to clarify what was going on. He jumped in without being recognized to speak, resulting in much unintelligible crosstalk.

City Clerk Audrey Sikes’ audio fell out as she tried to clarify the City’s motion.

The City voted unanimously to send the County what seemed to be two letters: one rejecting the County offer; the other with the City's proposal to provide $50k of program funding this fiscal year."


The infamous County 5 meets this morning to take up the issue, which somehow ended up on the County’s consent agenda.

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