Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City Rejects City Manager's Thumbs Down on $2 Mil Richardson CDBG Grant, Then Rejects His Attempt To Dump County Building Official

Lake City City Manager Paul Dyal with headline: City Manager Paul Dyal. Confidence issues percolating to the surface
Columbia County Observer photo & graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – The helter-skelter world of Lake City was on full display yesterday evening. Mayor Witt forgot to ask for the approval of the evening's agenda, and a tabled item regarding City building inspections mystically appeared on the evening’s regular agenda. There was no explanation from City Management regarding how these items were inserted on the agenda, no one asked, but City Manager Paul Dyal was involved.

Richardson Community Center Improvement Grant
Vital for the Surrounding Community and the Iconic Center

According to the grant documents, the City submitted its application on November 1, 2021. The grant period began on March 1, 2022, and ends on September 30, 2023.

The City received the grant award after a competitive application process from the $90 mil awarded by HUD and facilitated by Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) through the Small Cities CDBG/Division of Community Development. (CDBG=Community Development Block Grant).

To qualify, the grant must have benefited "primarily low- to moderate-income individuals, addressing slum or blight, or meeting an urgent need within a community.”

Lake City hit the jackpot and met all requirements.

Lake City was awarded $2,000,000 to rehabilitate the Richardson Community Center as a COVID-19 testing site and improve safety.

Project Description

"Improvements will include a new HVAC system, implementing a touchless kitchen, and bathroom repairs. In addition, sidewalks and street improvements will be made so that low-income citizens near the Center can more safely access it. Approximately 3,180 individuals will benefit from the project, of which 2,300 (or 72.33%) are considered low- to moderate-income (LMI). Therefore, the project will meet the LMI Benefit national objective.”

Grant Budget -- Not Complicated

$50,000 for administration; $50,000 for project delivery/implementation; $300,000 for engineering; and $1,600,000 for construction.

The grant was awarded on July 27, 2022, two weeks after then Interim City Manager Paul Dyal returned from his interview in Alaska. See: LC Mayor Witt: Did He Collude With Interim City Manager Dyal to Keep the City In the Dark About Mr. Dyal’s Trip To Alaska?

On March 6, 2023, in a meeting that deteriorated into chaos, now City Manager Paul Dyal explained the grant.

“Thank you, Mayor. This particular grant's been around for a while. You all just approved it the first of the year… I really don't support this grant… It really does nothing for Richardson Community Center.”

Mr. Dyal spoke about flooding in the area and added, “When you take the $2 million, it's not really $2 million by the time you put in engineering, design, and all of that stuff, you might be looking at maybe a little over a million, maybe 1.3 million.”

Councilman Sampson said he was in favor of the grant. He told the Council, "This is our one shot at these funds."

Councilman Hill said he was concerned about flooding in the area.

Mayor Steve Witt
Lake City Mayor Steve Witt

Councilwoman Young agreed with the flooding issues and said there was also a problem with the Richardson roof.

Councilman Sampson recommended modifying the grant, reiterating that the City often does not get a chance "or a bite at $2 million."

At that point, the meeting deteriorated into another Sylvester Warren name-calling Fandango and swung out of control.

After order returned, Councilwoman Young explained that City Manager Dyal was opposed to the grant and she supported his position.

It was unclear if any on the Council or City Staff knew the specifics of the grant.

The Council voted to ask DEO if it could modify the grant to address other issues.

DEO said no.

Because the City approved the grant by resolution, it had to reject it the same way, by a City Council resolution.

The Grant Ended Up on the Consent Agenda

Consent agenda items are routine business. Rejecting a $2 million federally funded grant is not routine business. At the meeting, it was not clear how the item ended up on the consent agenda, although all agenda items must be submitted to the city clerk. The submission should show which city official recommended installing the item on the consent agenda.

This morning, before this article was published, City Clerk Audrey Sikes explained how the resolution rejecting the $2 million made its way onto the consent agenda.

“No one specifically submitted the CDBG for the consent agenda… During the agenda preparation, the group discusses placement of all agenda items, and it was determined the consent agenda would be the best place for that one since it was already authorized to terminate it."

According to Clerk Sikes, the group is the City Clerk, two City Attorneys, the City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, City Attorney Kennon's assistant, and the City Manager's executive assistant.

There are no elected official in the group.

Last night, members from the community, some of the same ones that supported City Manager Dyal’s rejection of the grant, changed course, deciding that repairing the iconic Richardson Community Center and upgrading the area around it was not such a bad idea.

The City Council decided not to ask that the grant be withdrawn by not voting on the resolution as suggested by the City Attorney.

No one mentioned contacting DEO to advise them of the decision, nor was there any other discussion.

Building Official:  More Agenda Issues
North Florida Professional Services Almost Scores

Asst. City Manager Demetrius Johnson
Asssitant City Manager Demetrius Johnson (file)

In February 2023, Assistant City Manager Dee Johnson sent a letter to Columbia County canceling an agreement for the County's building inspector to inspect City projects.

City manager Paul Dyal claimed that sending the letter was a mistake; your reporter has not spoken with anyone who believes that to be true.

During the March 20 City Council meeting, a motion to cancel the agreement with the County was tabled until the City hired its own qualified building inspector. See: Lake City Building Officialdom: Columbia County Remains City Building Inspector – For Now

With full knowledge of why the canceling of the City-County contract was tabled, Mr. Dyal had a resolution terminating the agreement with the County added to the evening’s agenda.

Councilman Sampson asked if the City had hired its building official. The assistant city manager responded that it had not.

Assistant City Manager Johnson said North Florida Professional Services would be doing the City's inspections, but he had no idea how much this would cost the City.

North Florida professional services lobbyist, Dale Williams, attends the City meetings. It is not clear if lobbyist Williams or anyone else lobbied City Manager Dyal to add this to the agenda.

The City Attorney, the third different attorney in as many meetings, was unaware of the restrictions on the tabled motion.


It was business as usual for the Lake City City Council.

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