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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Combined Communications At Critical Mass

On Monday night, April 4, 2011, the Lake City Council met for their regularly scheduled City Council meeting. As the meeting got underway, Mayor Witt added a discussion item regarding the 911 Combined Communications Center. The County Commission is scheduled to meet Thursday evening. On the County's agenda is an item called, "Combined Communication Center - City of Lake City Participation."  The City, a partner in the center, had not received any notice of this item of critical concern for all the residents of the County.

The 911-Combined Communications center is one of the most important issues facing Columbia County. It is all about the public's safety. Columbia County has turned this into a food fight and has demonstrated time after time, "It's our way or the highway."

Where are we now?

For over a year Sheriff Hunter has chaired the users group, a vestige from the time of Sheriff Gootee. The equipment has been upgraded. That job appears complete and the technical side of the equation is up and running.

Sheriff Hunter, the number one law enforcement official in the county, was unavailable for comment. It is unknown if he has a position or if he is going to address the County Commission Thursday night.

Over the course of time the City has never publicly wavered in its desire for a combined communications center for all the residents of Columbia County.

After the regular business of the Council was concluded, Mayor Witt opened the discussion about the 911-Combined Communications Center, telling the Council, "I think it will be good for everybody if we can work this out. I think it's a good thing. I think we've hit a snag and I think we need to send a letter to the County."

Lake City's straight talking City Manager, Wendell Johnson, told the Council, "The County is doing the same thing today as they were doing this time last year. They are not functioning today on any kind of a true combined communications concept."

During the past two years the City and the County have met. Nothing has been accomplished except having more meetings.

Mayor Witt: "My understanding was that this was supposed to be one third - one third - one third say so in this thing. [the County, the Sheriff, the City]. That's what the interlocal said, but apparently that's not the way it is going to be interpreted. It is important to have a good understanding going in, rather than find out down the road that it is not working. It's just better to do it the right way in the beginning."

City Councilman George Ward:  "Is this anything different than what we've been saying all along? We can't just keep letting this lay in limbo. We need to send some kind of response."

City Manager Johnson: "When I saw it was going to be on the agenda for Thursday night - I don't know what the County's position is going to be. I have no idea what their objective is going to be, but I do know the title of the agenda item is: Combined Communications -- City participation."

CM Johnson explained the purpose of the proposed letter this way: "It is to reassure them [Columbia County] that this can work and that the City wants this to work, but also to assure them that the City is going to stand its ground and do it the right way."

Councilwoman Moses weighed in:  "We've only had one meeting (of the Mayor, Sheriff, County Chair). That meeting was the first meeting after two years. That was the first meeting that fulfilled what the interlocal agreement said. Every other meeting was other people. I agree that it's the best thing, but we have to do it right."

The Council agreed that Mayor Witt would send a letter to the County stating its position.

The City Letter: The letter is in two parts. The first two pages are the letter from Mayor Witt. The rest is a statement of issues and concerns that, for the most part, have never been addressed.

Yesterday, April 5, the City sent that letter.

After the letter was sent, the Observer had a brief conversation with City Manager, Wendell Johnson.

The Observer: Mr. Johnson, you've been involved and watching this for some time now. We seem to be at a critical juncture with the County discussing the City's participation in the Communication's Center on Thursday night.

CM Johnson:  As was mentioned at the City Council on Monday night and on many other occasions, neither I, the Mayor, nor the City Council have any issues with the Sheriff's leadership on the technology side. Now governance is what we all have to work together on.

CM Johnson continued: In the true spirit of a combined communications center, there has to be a fair and consistent governance plan for all the participants and that's what's missing.

City Manager Johnson concluded: "Let there be no mistake about this. The City is interested in doing this. But we have to do it right. That will be our theme for ever and a day."

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

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