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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Sylvester Warren’s Ethics Complaint Tossed, City Clerk Vindicated: There was a lot more than met the eye.  

Sylvester Warren & City Clerk Audrey Sikes
Photos and graphic: Columbia County Observer

LAKE CITY, FL – On September 13, 2023, Sylvester Warren III filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics against City Clerk Audrey Sikes. The events surrounding this complaint began in June 2023. On March 13, 2024, the Ethics Commission dismissed Mr. Warren's complaint.

Mr. Warren claimed that Ms. Sikes made false statements to a City Council member, made false statements about him, and inappropriately placed an item on the City Council agenda for her benefit. These claims constituted alleged violations of the Florida Constitution and Florida statutes.

link to Sylvester Warren Ethics ComplaingThe Warren Claims

In a letter dated September 8, 2023, Mr. Warren laid out his claims to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Mr. Warren claimed that on the weekend of June 17, 2023, Ms. Sikes lied to Councilwoman Chevella Young by telling her that she would place documents on the upcoming City agenda and then did not do that. Mr. Warren claimed that the combination of these acts was an attempt by the City Clerk and City Attorney to undermine Mr. Warren by removing him from the planning and zoning board.

Mr. Warren also claimed that Ms. Sikes made false statements about him regarding a meeting he had alone with Ms. Sikes where he acted "aggressive (sic) towards her."

Mr. Warren claimed that he was confronted with Ms. Sikes' charges by two City council members.

Mr. Warren claimed, "The unethical behavior, lies, defamation of my character

in the public brought great embarrassment to my family, loved ones, and myself."

The Warren Exhibits – Emails

Mr. Warren filed emails with his complaint from June and August 2023. The emails are generally all over the place and claim lies, character assassination, that he, Mr. Warren, has anxiety and is losing sleep, and that City Attorney Todd Kennon is not qualified to be the City Attorney.

Link to Warren emailsMr. Warren has been making these claims to the present day.

Mr. Warren's emails are here.

Ethics Commission (Commission) Investigation
Their investigation addresses responses from the City

The Commission investigated the issues surrounding City agenda preparation.

There are pages of information from the Commission regarding the questioned agenda items. Agendas, minutes, stuff that looked like an ordinance, and a resolution are included as Commission exhibits.

Moving Forward

On February 1, 2024, the Commission Advocate, Elizabeth A. Miller, filed her recommendation with the Commission.

Ms. Miller found the facts did not support the allegations.

On March 13, 2024, after meeting in executive session, the Commission dismissed Mr. Warren's complaint against the City Clerk and Lake City.

The Commission wrote in relevant part: Based on the preliminary investigation and the recommendation of the Commission's advocate, the Commission finds no probable cause to find the City Clerk in violation of the Florida Constitution or Florida statutes.

Epilogue - Analysis

Mr. Warren's complaint against City Clerk Audrey Sikes brought out issues that have been plaguing the City for some time (years).

The City Council has been unable to institute rules or any kind of policy to support the City Clerk's Office in its task of agenda preparation.

The City Clerk has tried to institute rules to have agendas prepared with adequate time for both the public and the City elected officials to review the material a week before the meeting, but the elected Council has refused to institute any procedures, resulting in contests of gamesmanship and efforts to "mug" the public with its last-minute additions and last-minute agenda publication.

Former City Attorney Fred Koberlein, who came to City Council meetings unprepared and, for the most part, didn't care about the public's rights, ensured that the Clerk's Office could provide agendas at the twelfth hour. He didn't act alone. The City Council rubber-stamped the rule. It was not clear if any of them had read it before voting.

Mr. Warren claimed that the City Clerk was afraid of being alone with him. Mr. Warren claimed he did not act "aggressive (sic) towards her" and that Ms. Sikes made it up.

While witnesses did not support Mr. Warren's claim, Mr. Warren's aggressive behavior is legendary in Columbia County, and many times, his partner, Vanessa George, has had to calm him down.

Mr. Warren wrote in his email of August 25, 2023, "She (Clerk Sikes) even went as far as to tell some council members she was afraid of me..."

That Ms. Sikes felt afraid of Mr. Warren has been well established. She told your reporter that soon after the incident.

Feelings are not against the law and are also not grounds for an ethics complaint. Acting out one's feelings can be against the law, like punching someone in the nose.

Mr. Warren's complaints against attorney Todd Kennon regarding 12th-hour documents are nothing new in Lake City, Columbia County, a County of legendary good old boy cronyism and back-room dealing, which Mr. Warren has complained about in his filings and most recently at the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, where Attorney Kennon is also the attorney and the legendary Dale Williams is the Manager.

Yes, Mr. Warren's ethics complaint against Ms. Sikes was uncomfortable for a lot of people and was ultimately dismissed, which it should have been.

However, all units of government in Columbia County (FGC, City, FL Crown, Ft. White, School District) and elsewhere should study the complaint and all responsive documents.

They may learn some uncomfortable truths, as may Mr. Warren and his followers.

The order to investigate and the prelimenary investigation is here.

The Commission recommendation is here.

Public report: case dismissed

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