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Lake City Spirals Out of Control – Again. The September 5 Council Meeting Degenerated Into Audience Outbursts and Racist Name Calling

Veteran Councilman Jake Hill during a quiet moment at the September 5 Council meeting
Columbia County Observer photo and graphic

LAKE CITY, FL – It was a rough Tuesday evening in City Hall as, once again, Mayor Stephen Witt lost control of a City Council meeting, allowing outbursts from the audience, folk just walking up to the microphone to speak, and racist name-calling.

Background: The run-up to September 5. A slew of emails from community activist Sylvester Warren.

Mayor Stephen Witt, Lake City, FL
Mayor Stephen Witt was once a light for good government.

The action began on August 22, 2023, when community activist Sylvester Warren sent an email to the City Council and others, sans Councilman Sampson, talking up the value of Annie Mattox Park and asking for money to fund programs at the park.

Mr. Warren also asked for funding of a Black Chamber of Commerce. $30,000 was requested in a later email.

On August 24, Mr. Warren asked that the City fund a separate police department for the Black community.

In an August 25 email, Mr. Warren asked for the termination of the City Law Firm (Robinson, Kennon, & Kendron, & Folds & Walker).

Also, on August 25, Mr. Warren asked for the termination of City Clerk Audrey Sikes.

Finally, on August 27, Mr. Warren asked that the subject of a citizen’s police review board be put on the City meeting agenda.

As community activist Warren could not add items to the City's agenda, he needed to find council member sponsors for his items.

Sponsorship of the Black Chamber was by Councilman Hill.

Sponsorship of funding for programs at Annie Mattox Park was by Councilwoman Young.

The Meeting

At 4 minutes after six on September 5, Mayor Witt gaveled the Lake City City Council meeting to order.

City Manager Paul Dyal was under the weather and appeared by phone. The City YouTube broadcast did not pick him up.

Mr. Dyal addressed the Council (abridged).

"Can everyone hear me good?

Mayor and Council, I'd like to discuss briefly here -- we're having an issue with items that are getting on the agenda.

First of all, let me point out on these items I'm gonna discuss, I fully support these items, but at the same time, we're getting items that are being put on the agenda as discussion and possible action. These items, I think could be on for discussion, but a lot of these items do not need to have action taken to them at this time. If there's any action on these items, they need to be directed to the city staff, so we can look into this.

I'm trying to protect the citizens, and I'm also trying to protect this Council.

There are a lot of things that are getting put on that we're taking action off (sic) without having been properly vetted not only through the administration, the procurement, but we need to start takin’ a better look at these items before we have any action on them. We're still trying to compile information on these items.

The Council has full authority to put anything on the agenda that they would like, but I think we're trying to circumvent the process when these items don't go through the administration to where we're able to see and answer some of the questions. To be able, not only on the legal side, but on the ethical side, to make sure the City stays out of trouble and that you all stay out of trouble."

Community activist Warren came to the microphone.

Community activist Sylvester Warren
An animated Sylvester Warren makes one of many points during the
meeting. At times, when he felt like talking, he would just talk.

"The first thing I wanna do is address Mr. Dyal."

"I don't think Mr. Dyal is in no position as a city manager -- first of all, the organization chart states that the citizens are above this whole government and that when the citizens ask for somethin', it is the responsibility of our elected leaders to do it and it's a responsibility of Mr. Dyal and his office to carry it out and not to tell y'all when and what not to take action on."

“It's his job when y'all take action on somethin’ to make it happen. That’s how that works -- in politics and in government… He just don't understand his role.”

Mr. Warren continued, “Many from the predominately black community is in the audience tonight…  They're fed up with not getting the resources that they need from their elected leadership on issues like crime, more lighting throughout their Community. Youth programs to help save our children; a black Chamber of Commerce for business owners and a new black business.”

Note: A federal grant would have provided new sidewalks and street lighting around the Richardson Community Center. Mr. Warren, along with City Manager Dyal, led the charge to reject the grant.

Mr. Warren observed that when white folks need something, “Y'all vote on them and y'all figure them out as y'all vote on them, but when it comes down to our needs and our tax dollars -- we won't reinvest back in our community.”

A Drive-Through Pharmacy: Old business, Aged Old Problem

Dr. Erica Mayo, Lake City, FL
Dr. Erica Mayo was not blind.

At a previous meeting, Dr. Erica Mayo brought a plan to the Council to open a drive-through pharmacy. Councilman Hill sponsored Dr. Mayo's business concept. There were procurement issues and other legal issues.

Dr. Mayo told the City Council, "It does look like a black versus white issue, although we hate to bring that up, but prior to the black people askin' for things, none of this stuff came up, and that's why we're having an issue with this. Prior to Jack, Joe, and Jill for coming here after whatever they wanted to -- hundreds of thousands of dollars -- they get it approved with no issue. We have a whole situation where people were given a million dollars to run a business, and nothin' was asked about it... It's not like I just sit in the dark. I do know the issues."

The Black Chamber of Commerce

Both Lake City and Columbia County have been sponsoring the Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce for decades. The Chamber is basically a Political Action Committee (PAC) of white folks pushing a white business agenda that benefits white people.

Last year, the Chamber moved out of Lake City's downtown, which is within the CRA boundaries, to the all-white outskirts of Lake City.

On July 21, 2020, Sylvester Warren III registered with SunBiz and formed the Lake City Black Chamber of Commerce, Inc.

The Black Chamber went inactive and was reinstated on August 16, 2023, by its now president, Vanessa George. Mr. Warren became the Black Chamber treasurer.

Councilwoman Chevella Young, Lake City, FL
After being called Sambo my Mr. Warren, Councilwoman Chevella Young was her usual collected self. It was clear she was not happy about the tennor of the meeting.

On August 22, 2023, a week after the reinstatement of the Black Chamber, Mr. Warren, now the Black Chamber treasurer, emailed Lake City asking for funding.

At Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Hill did not mention anyone involved with the Black Chamber. It is not clear if he knew.

However, Mr. Warren, who asked for $30,000 for the Black Chamber, knew and did not mention a word.

Following the long tradition established by former County Manager Dale Williams (now the part-time director of the LSHA), Mr. Warren or someone from the Black Chamber typed an undated request for funding on a piece of paper without any letterhead.

The Black Chamber provided no financial statements, board meeting minutes, business plan, or anything.

The Black Chamber correspondence claimed it is “connected to the National Black Chamber of Commerce.”

The correspondence also claims the Lake City Black Chamber offers programs. It is unclear how many of those programs were offered the week it became active.

Mr. Warren provided no other information, and neither did Councilman Hill.

After more heated conversation from Mr. Warren, the Council approved $25,000 for a Black Chamber of Commerce, which is nothing more than a mirage.


Lake City has degenerated into a clown show. There have been over a thousand YouTube views of the September 5, 2023 City Council meeting.

Sylvester Warren’s calling of the three Black Council Members “Sambos” should have had him evicted from the meeting at the first “Sambo.”

Throughout the years Mayor Witt has had a positive effect on the reputation of Lake City. Those days have ended.

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