Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news from Florida for working families since 2007

Lake City News

Florida’s Premiere Dysfunctional Government Has the Rug Pulled Back By Councilwoman Chevella Young – It Was Not a Pretty Sight

Councilwoman Chevella Young with headline: Florida's premiere dysfunctional government had the rug pulled back by Councilwoman Chevella Young -- It was not a pretty sight

LAKE CITY, FL – Tuesday night in City Hall, some of Lake City’s festering problems bobbed to the surface. Issues with the City Attorney permeated much of the governance discussion. The City Clerk got caught up by blindly following the bogus advice of the City Attorney, while the City Manager, who recently said he and his assistant were in training, mainly received a free pass.


For over 50 years, the legendary Herbert Darby was the Lake City City Attorney.

For the most part, Mr. Darby worked in the background and one didn’t hear much from him other than during City Charter review time or while he was reading the titles of City ordinances and resolutions during Council meetings.

In August 2016, Fred Koberlein, Jr., along with two other firms, was interviewed for the soon-to-be vacated slot of City Attorney.

Fred Koberlein, Jr., 2016
Lake City attorney, Fred Koberlein (front left), his father, Fred Sr., and Megan Logan of Marks Gray, await the announcement of the rankings for City Attorney.

Mr. Koberlein, Jr. ensured that his and the other law firm interviews were closed to the public, although they did not have to be.

The Koberlein lack of respect for transparency came to the forefront during the City Attorney interviews, which didn't have to be closed, and the audio recording of his interview was totally unintelligible.

During the City Attorney reign of Mr. Koberlein, at times, it seemed like there was an alter government. Mr. Koberlein gave the City Council members his contact numbers and advised them to call anytime.

Fred Koberlein, Jr., now a judge, set the stage for the next group of attorneys that were to represent Lake City.

Experienced city and county managers will tell you that other than legal questions, there is very little need for council members to contact their municipal attorneys.

Last Night in City Hall

Agenda Item 12: Requesting an AG opinion on the appointment of Sylvester Warren to the P&Z

If you are unsure how community activist Sylvester Warren ended up on Lake City's Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z), you can read about it here: Lake City Florida: Another Popcorn Night Coming Up. This Time It's the P&Z. Will the Council Follow City Manager Dyal and Remove Sylvester Warren?
The Council’s June 5 meeting was the prelude to this Monday’s request for the attorney general opinion. See: City Attorney Finds Council Appointment Of Sylvester Warren to P&Z Unconstitutional, Then Keeps His Opinion Out of the Public Eye.  This article has links to emails and City Attorney Kennon’s legal opinion.

This past Tuesday evening, Councilman Sampson made a motion to request the Florida Attorney General's Opinion: "Mr. Mayor, I make a motion to authorize the city attorney to obtain an opinion from the Attorney General in regards to the constitutional requirement of clemency and the appointment that we made to Mr. Warren to the Planning and Zoning Board and Board of Adjustment and Historic Preservation Agency."

Councilwoman Chevella Young seconded the motion and was recognized by Mayor Witt [abridged]:

Thank you. I believe this is a great move, and it will be very beneficial to the future decisions of this Council concerning convicted felons becoming members of boards in our City. This will prevent the singling out of certain persons. Before I found out that this was on the agenda, I asked that Mr. Warren be removed. This is a much better agenda item. We take it before the Attorney General to get the facts of it and not opinions. This is what we should have done initially. This is why we have a city attorney.

Councilwoman Young continued:

It caused a lot of issues. There's a lot that's going to come after what we're talking about now because of the decision of the City Attorney coming to the meeting where he could have easily called the councilpersons individually and discussed this. That's what he's here for. I appreciate this being on the agenda in the manner which it is. Thank you, Councilman [Sampson].

Councilman Sampson followed up: “I think it makes sense to get this opinion, and then when we get it, we need to see what we're doing as far as how we're vetting people upfront to serve on the boards. If we're doing something incorrect, we need to have a uniform way of doing it… I think it's best to get an answer and know what's going on.”

Agenda Item 13: Interaction between the City Clerk and City Attorney; interaction between City Clerk, City Attorney, and the City Council

Councilwoman Chevella Young had this item added to the Tuesday agenda. According to the City Clerk, the original language was initially set to be the termination of the city clerk and city attorney.

Chevella Young listens
Ms. Young listens during the meeting.

Ms. Young explained, “This item on the agenda, it all derived from the choice of the city attorney bringing information to the Council and public, in the presence of the public instead of doing it in a more tactful manner.”

“Prior to the June 5 meeting, Ms. Sikes called me and made me aware of an agenda item concerning the appointment of Mr. Warren, saying that it is against the charter.”

I asked Ms. Sikes, "Where's this coming from." I said we voted on this already, so what is expected to be gained?

“She, Ms. Sikes, didn't answer where it came from… who brought it about? She informed me that it was a citizen complaint, and I said okay; just attach the information to the agenda.”

“Ms. Sikes responded the city attorney said, ‘It's not wise to do that.’”

“I said to Ms. Sikes, ‘Attach the information. The public needs to know this information.’”

“Ms. Sikes assured me that she would revise the agenda, and it would be attached.”

“Upon approaching this seat, I found that the information was not there. So, Ms. Sikes took it upon herself, along with the City Attorney, to make a decision to go against the assignment of a Council member."

After some talk about the sunshine law, Councilwoman Young continued.

“It seems like to me there was a conspiracy – like these two people [Clerk & Attorney] are conspiring against the Council. That's how I would describe this.”

Ms. Young mentioned that she didn't like the position that the Clerk and Attorney were in.

She said, “If you can’t work for us – you're working against us. We don't need you."

Ms. Young wanted to ask the City Clerk and the City Attorney if they planned on working for the Council. "That's what I want to ask tonight because it stops here. It stops tonight.”

Ms. Young asked if she was allowed to ask that question. The Mayor didn't know and gave the City Clerk the option to answer.

Councilwoman Young could have asked whatever question she liked.

City Clerk Audrey Sikes Responds

City Clerk Audrey Sikes

Ms. Sikes began, “I'm gonna read you something that I prepared because I had no idea what was going to be on the agenda – So, on my way home on Friday, June the second, Mr. Dyal [City Manager] mentioned that you were upset about the resolution on the agenda. We're sending Mr. Warren’s appointment to the planning and zoning board. I told Mr. Dyal I would call you once I got home. After I got home. You're right. I did call you. It was around 6:30 PM. You asked me who authorized this to be on the agenda. I shared with you [City] Attorney Kennon placed this on the agenda, and I asked you if you had read the email I sent you earlier in the day about this item. You responded that you had not. At this time, you said you were having difficulty getting connected to your internet. So I read you the entire memorandum from Mr. Kennon.”

(The memorandum was Mr. Kennon's legal opinion, which was not labeled "legal opinion.")

Ms. Sikes continued, “I offered a screenshot and [to] text it to you, but you declined (unintelligible). You get logged in, and you'd call me later if you needed anything additional."

“During our conversation, you expressed to me that you felt the memorandum should have been included in the packet.”

“I shared with you that Mr. Kennon did not want it in the packet, and I'm sure he could better explain this reasoning to you than I could. I never told you that I was going to put that on the agenda. At the meeting on Monday, June the fifth, Michelle [Deputy Clerk Michele Cannon] had the resolution removed from the agenda. “On Thursday, June the eighth, Mr. Dyal came to me stating Ms. Young had seen online or an article that Mr. Sampson was putting an item on the agenda [last two paragraphs] requesting an attorney general opinion about the clemency matter and that she wanted that item removed from the agenda.”

City Manager Paul Dyal
It was a quiet evening for City Manager Paul Dyal

“Mr. Dyal and I called Ms. Young and explained to her why I was unable to remove that item from the City Council agenda.”

“Anyone council member cannot remove another council member's items from the agenda. This must be accomplished by motion at the meeting. During this conversation, you brought up the memorandum again from Mr. Kennon and how you felt it should have been in the packet. You ended the call with Paul and I saying that you were not upset or unhappy with anything I've done. The next day you reached out to Mr. Dyal and asked him to place my termination on the agenda.”

Ms. Sikes concluded, “And I'll also say that when we were talking about Sunshine Law, that was in reference to when we were telling you that we could not poll the members for you to pull that item from the agenda. Yes, ma'am. That's exactly what that was. I'm sorry. That's all I have.”

Councilwoman Young responds:

“Are you finished? Let's, let's do it one at a time. There's a lot of mistruth. It's, it's some, it's not true. Things are being said that’s not true. And that's another problem, along with – let me go ahead and bring this out, 'cause I neglected to put this in my note. I wasn't gonna say it and I won't call the name. But just – I believe it was two days after I called the office, the administration office, to say, to put it on there. And I did say termination at first. I did speak termination.”

“Two days later, I get a call from someone in the public. Someone in the public questioning me about this item on the agenda. And I asked the question – where did you get that? He said the grapevine. I said, well, who's the owner of the grapevine because I need to know where this is coming from. That's another thing — too much City business. Too much business administered. Let us – let us take care of it first. Administration. For all you know, it may have gone away."

“We’ve got to stop this, and this lying -- just tell the truth. God, I love the truth. Just tell the truth. There's miss truth in that letter. And it's uncalled for. It does not sit well with me. It's probably worse now than it was. Don't lie on me. Don't put words in my mouth. We can't work like that. We, I won't work like that. And I think I'm here for a couple of years or so. I refuse.”

City Attorney Todd Kennon (every time he spoke, he had to be reminded to use the microphone)

City Attorney Todd Kennon

“I believe it's both my contractual and ethical obligation always to review actions of the Council, administration, to be, make sure that they're in compliance with the state and federal laws as the City requires of you and the entire board.

“Give a little chronology.”

“I did not recollect – that may have been my fault – I did not recollect at the meeting that Mr. Warren was appointed that he was a convicted felon. It's probably been said. It did not cross my mind. If it didn't cross my mind, I can't bring it up in turn.”

“Subsequent to that meeting, I received a one-one-nine request [public records request from this reporter with a copy of a clemency dertificate] requesting information about clemency, civil rights – Mr. Warren that I have in my possession. I believe there was an allusion to a convicted felon can't sit on the board. That raised a red flag with me. I thought something needed to be investigated so that if there was a problem, it did not permeate into the future.”

Mr. Kennon continued, “If I did anything wrong, it probably was not getting the report to Council as quick as I did. But I got it done as quickly as I could. The Report to Council went out the Friday before the meeting.”

“It was my advice and direction to Ms. Sikes to not place it in the agenda. Because I, I did not recollect – do not know exactly where the agenda goes.”

“Out of respect to this City Council, I felt it appropriate to give this Council the opportunity to review the issue prior to the meeting and called Mr. Warren prior to the Report To Council to confirm, and he did confirm that his [Mr. Warren interrupted] I'm, I'm gonna finish -- that I gave him the courtesy of a call. He confirmed that his voting rights had been restored. After that, the agenda went out."

Mr. Kennon concluded, “And at the very bottom of the report, if any council member has any questions or concerns related to this issue, please contact me on the office number … or cell phone. And to my knowledge, I think I've got Mr. Sampson, Mr. Hill, and Mr. Jernigan [City Council members] programmed in my phone and maybe Mr. [Mayor] Witt. But if I missed a call, I apologize. But I do not believe I received a call, and I felt that appropriate for this Council to have the opportunity to review this issue before it otherwise got out into the public.”

“Again, that as a matter of courtesy to this Council, and that is what I thought would be the most appropriate because my allegiance is to the Council.”

Mayor Witt allowed Mr. Warren to respond, which he did. Once again, Mr. Warren abused his time limit. The audience took offense. The Mayor told the audience to quiet down, and Mr. Warren continued. Mr. Warren has ignored the published City rules of decorum for the past few years. Mayor Witt allows him to do what he wants.


Mayor Steven Witt
As the meeting drew to a close, 18 year veteran Lake City Mayor Steve Witt said, "I'm going to read the [City] charter this weekend."

Lake City is known far and wide as one of the most dysfunctional municipalities in Florida – and beyond. Mayor Witt, other government officials, community leaders, and citizens have acknowledged this.

This extreme governmental dysfunction began with the reign of now judge Fred Koberlein, Jr., as Lake City’s City Attorney. Former City Manager Joe Helfenberger paid the price.

The new City Attorney, Todd Kennon, has continued this dysfunctional culture. While Mr. Kennon is hired to represent the City Council – that is his client – his allegiance should be the law.

Nothing in the law allowed Mr. Kennon to withhold his legal analysis of the appointment of Sylvester Warren to the P&Z. Once his law office forwarded that document to the City Clerk – or anybody, it was out of his hands and authority. It was a public record.

Had the City Clerk done what she was supposed to do, assemble the agenda with Mr. Kennon's legal analysis, this drama, highlighting once again the continuing dysfunction of Lake City's municipal government, would not have been an issue.

Comments: to add a comment go here.

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.