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Lake City News

City Manager’s First Recommendation Shot Down: P&Z Board Application Process – A Mess

LC City Manager Don Rosenthal reviews his notes before his first meeting was gaveled to order.
LC City Manager Don Rosenthal reviews his notes before his first meeting was gaveled to order. (Columbia County Observer photo)

LAKE CITY, FL – City Manager Don Rosenthal's first Council meeting went smoothly – until it didn't. On the City's docket were appointments to the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z), one of the most important positions in any municipal government.

The P&Z is an economic development driver. In Lake City and other places, it is responsible for the municipality’s land development regulations (LDRs) and comprehensive plan. The LDRs regulate zoning, and the comp plan is the basis for land use regulations. It also provides a nexus between the community's future vision and the regulation of private property. A comprehensive plan provides a vision for the future of the community, along with the steps that are needed to make that vision a reality. It is the basis for land use regulations and provides a nexus between the community's future vision and the regulation of private property. (comp plan explanation: Google)

In some communities, the individual elected representatives chose P&Z members. In some, like Lake City, the council votes on members. Terms can be found to be anywhere from two, three, or four years. Applications generally can expire in a year, and the position can be reapplied for at the end of the term.

Some communities require resumes, driver's licenses, or other identification. Some communities have questionnaires for the applicant to complete and a place to verify the applicant's signature.

Lake City

Its ordinance controlling P&Z appointments and other P&Z issues was last updated in 1968 (that is not a typo). The only City requirement to become a member of the P&Z is to be a resident of the City. The term is four years, and according to the ordinance, the term can continue forever if the Council does not appoint anyone else for that spot.

Last night in City Hall, there were seven applications. No signature is required on the application, and it was impossible to know who filled out the applications or, in some instances, if the applicant even saw them.

For some of the applicants, other people submitted them to either the City Clerk or Growth Management. Nothing in the City rules prevents this willy-nilly application process.

On the Docket Last Night

Glenel Bowden addresses the City Council
Glenel Bowden addresses the City Council. He explained the Planning and Zoning Board, "One of the most important boards before the City."

Former City Councilman Glenel Bowden kicked off the discussion with public comment.

Mr. Bowden told the Council: “This is probably one of the most important volunteer boards before the City. It deals with our growth and everything else… It is important that you fill these positions so that you have a quorum… Otherwise, you're hurtin' developers; you're hurtin' the City – people can't go before the zoning board because there is not a quorum. It's not your fault. But it will be your fault if you don't fill the position[s] if you got people willin' to serve. If they can read and write, then they can serve.”

Mr. Bowden was correct, except that there is no requirement that the P&Z member know how to “read and write.”

Community activist Sylvester Warren addresses the City Council.
Community activist Sylvester Warren made claims about one of the applicants. According to the City, they did not check out.

Community activist Sylvester Warren said the applications should be approved based on when they were received. He also announced that one applicant, John Woolum, was his personal friend and had changed his mind about being on the P&Z.

Mr. Warren also announced that the City Charter required an applicant to be eighteen.

The Charter is silent regarding anything about the P&Z.

Mayor Witt announced there were six applicants. There were seven. He asked for recommendations.

Councilman Carter asked, “Is there anything in the Charter that requires a first-come, first-served basis?”

There isn’t.

Councilman Carter recommended Brenda Douglas, telling the Council that “she has read the LDR (Land Development Regulation) from front to back.”

Mayor Witt agreed with Mr. Carter’s recommendation.

Councilman Ricky Jernigan recommended tabling the P&Z matter, "To give the City Manager an opportunity to review the applications…and meet with the applicants.”

Councilman Carter said, “I believe the new City Manager has reviewed the applications.”

City Manager Rosenthal volunteered: “From what I’ve seen, I agree with Brenda Douglas, Schara Wilson, and John Woolum. I heard it spoken that Mr. Woolum had withdrawn his application. I would verify that that’s so, and if it is we will select somebody else off that list.”

Councilman Carter added, “I think Ms. Wilson and Mr. Woolum are both business owners here in town. That should be very relevant.”

Mayor Witt asked, “Is that a motion?”

It was not clear if Mayor Witt heard City Manager Rosenthal recommend three applicants.

Councilwoman Chevella Young was recognized, “Has anyone spoken with the selected applicants.”

Unidentified speaker: “I have.”

Councilman Carter said, “I believe they were spoken with.”

Mayor Witt asks again, “Is there a motion?”

Councilman Carter (without being recognized): “For the time being, I make a motion to appoint Brenda Douglass… and Saun [Schara] Wilson, and I suppose we can find out about Mr. Woodlum [Woolum] later.”

Mayor Witt: “Is there a second?”

Unidentified speaker:  “Second.”

City Clerk Audrey Sikes looks for clarification: “Mayor, can I just verify? I believe when Mr. Rosenthal gave his recommendation – was it – Wilson for the 2024 or was it Woolum?”

Mr. Rosenthal:  “It was Wilson.”

LC City Clerk Audrey Sikes
City Clerk Audrey Sikes double checked Councilman Carter's motion.

Clerk Sikes continued (to Councilman Carter):  “Did you want to go with Mr. Rosenthal’s recommendation? Because your motion was different than his recommendation.”

Councilman Carter: “My motion was designed to fill the seats with the longest time.”

Clerk Sikes asked:  “Douglas – A; Wilson – D; Mr. Woolum – F. Is that correct?” (The letters represented the expiration of the term).

Councilman Carter tosses the City Manager recommendation

Councilman Carter replied, “Yes. Well no. I didn’t make a motion to clear Mr. Woolum.”

The Council voted unanimously to accept Mr. Rosenthal’s two recommendations and tossed the third, Mr. Woolum’s, based on Mr. Warren’s remarks.

About the City Manager Recommendations

There were seven candidates for the three open positions.

Resumes are not required to be provided with the City application. The application’s origin is undated (undated documents are chronic across Columbia County). The application does not ask for resumes. It is unclear why or who, if anyone, told folks to provide resumes with completed applications.

Both Mayor Witt and Councilman Carter met with City Manager Rosenthal. They met one at a time. Neither Mr. Rosenthal nor the Mayor nor Councilman Carter volunteered that they had met and discussed the applicants.

Of the three applicants recommended by City Manager Rosenthal, only one provided a resume, Schara Wilson.

City Manager Rosenthal did not volunteer how he decided on his recommendations. However, he may have been the unrecognized and unidentified speaker who said, "I have," when Councilwoman Young asked if anyone had spoken with the candidates.

Mid-afternoon today, Councilman Carter told your reporter that he takes the Florida Sunshine Law very seriously and will be considering ways to be transparent.

Late today, City Clerk Sikes, in response to an inquiry by your reporter about Mr. Woolum's availability, wrote: "Mr. Woolum…stated that he had not withdrawn his application. He is still interested in serving on the Planning and Zoning Board."

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