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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Columbia County News
Beginning in 2013 County & County Commission News will be here. Earlier
years will be found in either County News or County Commission indexes
2015
Index of Stories • 201520142013 2012-2009

County News 2015 (scroll down)

After 4 Decades Columbia County Drops the Ball on Audit Proposals: Management Bollixes Rankings

In a Flawed Process, After 4 Decades, County to Rank Auditing Proposals

County's Audit Presentation a Bust - Again
Com. Williams Warns About Spending Reserves

$60 Mil Project Bark/Crystal Clear Goes South: Economic Development's Hunter Makes it Official

Columbia County 5: Gas & Cell Phone Taxes May Be on the Rise

The County 5: Another Last Minute Change to the Meeting Schedule

County 5 Public Hearings a Sham: The 5 Ignore Rule of Law, County Attorney Gets it Wrong

Skunkie Acres vs Lake City Reporter, Pt II: The Hearing and Judge's Order

Skunkie Acres vs Lake City Reporter – Lawsuit Dismissed: Reporter's Newspaper Article a Sham

County Health Dept & Palms Medical Join in Health Fair: Get Checked Saturday Morning – It's Free

County 5:  No Representation Without Taxation New Taxes on the Horizon; 5 Cent Gas Tax Lurking

Columbia County 5: Agenda by PowerPoint
More Wacky Gov't From FL's Good Ole' Boys

Blanche Million $ Loan Goes Down 3-2
Next Up: City Manager Johnson's Fall Back Plan

The Blanche – The County Million $ – The County 5 Tonight: "To be or not to be? That is the question"

Blanche Redevelopment Confusion: Com. Nash, "Everybody should get in a room and air it out"

Sitel Bringing 700 Full Time Jobs to Lake City
Job Fair Monday, May 18

City Manager Johnson's Thursday Appearance At the County 5: It was not to address the Board

The Lake City Reporter Got It Wrong

Frisina Swings the Vote, Blanche Ducks a TKO
Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping

The Blanche Ducks a TKO
Lake City, County, Developer Regrouping

The Blanche Tonight:  Will Wendell Johnson's $17 mil Lake City Legacy Survive the County 5?

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Tonight, after multitudinous meetings with the Assistant County Manager, Ben Scott, and County Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter, Columbia County's infamous County 5 will decide whether or not to front Lake City at least a million dollars on the derelict Blanche Hotel. Secrecy and secret finances were a hallmark of City Manager Wendell Johnson's time at the now mostly defunct dismissal failure, the $30 mil North Florida Broadband Authority of which he was one of the financial kingpins. Johnson now is the driving force in Lake City's Blanche project, one that has ballooned from $13.5 mil to $17 mil in seven months.

'Skunkie' Patriarch Passes Out in Small Claims Court: "Lake City Reporter put me over the edge"

Posted April 24, 2015  08:15 am

School District Auction Goes off Without a Hitch
Laptops, Monitors, Video Cameras: MIA

Posted April 20, 2015  07:10 am

OLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Saturday's Columbia County School District (CCSD) auction went off without a hitch. The surplus school busses were lined up like giant yellow caterpillars. Inside the warehouse were tables, chairs, kitchen equipment, and screen printing equipment. Many of the items looked new or nearly new. There was also a tire changer, vehicle jacks, and welders. Laptop computers and computer equipment that some folks came to buy was MIA.

Phillips Leads The 5 in 3-2 Quality of Life Split
Planning & Zoning Board Overruled

Posted April 17, 2015  07:20 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Last night, The Columbia County 5, in a 3-2 split, led by Dist. 4 Commissioner Everett Phillips, turned back the Planning & Zoning Board (P&Z) and voted in favor of quality of life. The question before The 5 was:  should they overrule the P&Z's decision to change the use of 110 acres from very low density, 1 dwelling per acre, to industrial. Randy Jones, the County's Building Dept. Director, presented nothing locating the property during the public hearing.

Lake City Reporter: A Newspaper You Can't Trust
Handmaidens to Columbia County's Good Ole' Boys

Columbia County 5 Vote 3-2 to Look for an Auditor: But After 40 yrs They All Want Powell Back

Posted April 3, 2015  05:30 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Last night, the Columbia County 5, (The 5 or the County Commission) decided after 40 years to put out a search for a County Auditor to possibly replace the only Auditor the County has had since the 70's, External Auditor Richard Powell. The County's Constitutional Officers had previously recommended keeping Powell. Last night, the County Staff recommended keeping Powell. Chairman Rusty DePratter, after a split vote in favor of searching for another auditor, announced that he hoped the County ended up "with the same" auditor.

Auditor Richard Powell – The 5's 40 Year "Go-to-Man": Back on The County 5 Docket Tonight

Columbia Cnty Making a Play for Sunbelt Forest Products (Project Sandra): Others also in the Hunt

Posted April 1, 2015  10:15 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday afternoon's County 5 meeting brought no surprises as County Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter pitched economic development incentive packages that were already discussed last week during the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. meeting. Project Sandra was reported here. The incentive package needed the County 5's approval. Columbia County is not the only location in the hunt for Sunbelt's expansion.

Enterprise FL & the NFEDP: Helping Columbia County Lasso $60-70 mil Project At the 12th Hour

Posted March 26, 2015  08:55 am

"Tremendous Opportunity, but we don't have a rail; we don't have roads; we don't have utilities."

After Generations of Economic Underdevelopment: Will Columbia County Turn a Corner?

Posted March 24, 2015  10:40 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday morning at 10:00 am, Columbia County's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) met for a special meeting called by Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter. The purpose of the meeting: discuss economic development incentives which will cost Columbia County millions; the payback: jobs. This article deals with one of those projects, code name: Project Sandra.

Columbia County 5 & Sheriff Make History: Percent Based Budgeting or Flim-Flam 101

Posted March 20, 2015  11:10 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter likes to spend his time at County Commission meetings sitting in the shadows. Last night, before the evening's County 5 meeting was gaveled to order, Commissioner Everett Phillips asked him to sit where folks could see him. He refused. Thirty minutes later, The 5, made history, when they unanimously voted, without one substantive question, to approve an interlocal agreement between the County and Sheriff, the first of its kind in the history of Florida. The agreement, prepared by the Sheriff's lawyers at the Florida Sheriff's Association, guaranteed him 39% of Columbia County's non restricted revenues and gave him an unrestricted reserve fund of $1.3 mil.

External Auditor Richard Powell - The 40 Year Man On The 5's Docket Tonight: Time For a New Face?

Posted March 19, 2015  07:20 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Tonight, the Columbia County 5 is going to decide whether or not to make its forever Auditor, Richard Powell, secure for another 40 years.  State law required an Audit Committee of the Constitutional Officers and County Chair to be formed to give the County 5 input. Last week, they did, and they unanimously decided to negotiate another contract with Mr. Powell. County 5 Chairman, Rusty DePratter, voted with the Constitutionals. Tonight the public will see if the rest of The 5 will "go along to get along" and support the County Chair.

Community Tennis Association Forming, Commissioner Nash says, "Keep moving forward"

Posted March 18, 2015  07:45 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, Columbia County's Sports Advisory Council heard from County Economic Development Director, Glenn Hunter. The Sports Advisory Council is the sounding board and clearing house for all sports and activity groups that utilize the County's Southside Sports Complex and the extensive network of County community centers and parks. A grass roots tennis committee is looking to bring a county-wide tennis program to Columbia County, as well as a world class tennis facility for tournament and recreational use.

Constitutionals Meet: County Auditor Powell Secure for Another 40 Years? The 5 Will Decide

Posted March 13, 2015  08:59 am

FL DOH's Wendy Bragdon on Healthiest Weight: "This is not just a job for me, this is a passion."

Posted March 6, 2015  05:45 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night's meeting of the County 5 saw the introduction Wendy Bragdon, the Florida Department of Health's (DOH), Columbia County Division, new Health Education Consultant and Healthiest Weight Coordinator. Ms. Bragdon told The County 5, "This is not just a job for me, this is a passion. I've lost over a hundred pounds. I want to encourage the members of our community to live healthier lives."

The Supremes Will Have Food for Thought, The Panel Met, Most Public Officials Blew off the Public

Posted March 03, 2015  11:00 am | Part II (Part I: The FL Sup. Ct. Wants to Hear You)

COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – Yesterday afternoon from 3 pm to 7 pm, 4th DCA Judge Jonathan Gerber, Third Circuit Chief Judge, Gregg Parker, and former Third Circuit Chief Judge, Leandra Johnson, took up residence in Columbia County's courtroom I to listen, take notes, and ultimately report back to the Supremes. The Florida judicial branch is developing its long-range strategic plan for 2016-2022. Folks came from as far as Tampa to address the committee. Most of Columbia County's public and elected and officials, along with the County's daily newspaper, the Lake City Reporter, came to be seen and mingle with each other, then made a bee line to the exit when the public came to the microphone.

The FL Supreme Court Wants to Hear From You: Monday 3 pm - Courtroom I

Posted March 01, 2015  10:30 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – A cornerstone of a well-functioning society is an effective judicial system. “We need to know how we’re doing, what works well, and what may need to be improved. The opinions and perspectives of all Floridians are important to us,” said Fourth District Court of Appeal Judge Jonathan Gerber. The committee is looking for answers for two questions: 1) What are your thoughts about the state courts system? 2) What do you believe are the most important issues currently facing Florida courts? The committee will meet in Courtroom I, Monday at 3 pm and continue until 7 pm, first hearing from the public officials and then the public.

SCLC vs. Columbia County School Board
Will Justice Delayed Be Justice Denied?

Posted February 26, 2015  06:45 pm

COLUMBIA COUNTY/LAKE CITY, FL – Columbia County Florida is in the heart of the Deep South. Once a year it celebrates the defeat of Union forces in the Battle of Olustee. In 2015, race relations are still a confusing and contentious issue. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) Lake City President, Befaithful Coker, on February 2, 2015, asked to be put on the School Board agenda so that a resolution could be made "In Recognition of Black History Month and Alfonso Lofton," who, in 1963, graduated from Columbia County's all black high school and went on to become Florida's first black state trooper. The District refused – the SCLC sued. Black History month concludes in 3 days.

Harmony in the Columbia County School District

Southern Christian Leadership Conference Sues Columbia County School District & Superintendent

Posted February 22, 2015  08:59 am | news–analysis

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Friday afternoon the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) filed a law suit against the Columbia County School District, the Superintendent, and the Custodian of Records. The SCLC claims violations of the Public Records Act; Violations of the Sunshine Law; and failure to follow its own rules, which allows a person to be on the School Board agenda.

The County 5's New Rules: County Attorney's First Public Foray Goes Back to the Drawing Board

Posted February 20, 2015  10:59 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The fruits of a month of backroom maneuvering and unknown meetings came to a head last night. Newly elected and Florida's only publicly-elected County Attorney, Joel Foreman's Rules of Procedure were presented to the public at last night's meeting of the County 5. Mr. Foreman's new rules spent approximately 62% of their substance controlling, throttling, or restricting the public that elected him to represent the County Commission.

County Emergency Management Conducting Hazardous Materials Exercise

Posted February 18, 2015  06:50 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Columbia County Emergency Management Department will be conducting a hazardous materials exercise beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, February 20 at Florida Gateway College.

County 911: Texting Now On Tap
Call 911 if you can – text, only if you can't

Posted February 6, 2015  08:15 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Columbia County Combined Communications Center now has the ability to receive text messages to 911. Using a phone to call 911 is the most efficient way to reach emergency help, but what if you can't talk on your phone? What if you can only text and you need emergency assistance?

DEO Funds Hole-In-the-Map Tourism: 192,500 Maps Leave Out N. Central FL's Iconic Counties

Posted January 28, 2015  10:05 am

Suwannee Valley TA – $13.9 Million in Funding Since 2009: Who Was Watching the Store?

Posted January 20, 2015  10:50 am

County 5 Refuse to Take a Stand Against Fracking: County Manager Speaks – The 5 Are Reviewing

Posted January 16, 2015  07:59 am

Economic Development: $500,000 Banner Center Disappears; Rail Spur Not a Panacea

Posted January 09, 2015  10:35 am

Major Shake-up at the County 5: New Chairman Changes the Deck Chairs - Williams Deep Sixed

Posted January 07, 2015  12:01 am

Suwannee Valley TA: Fandango Continues, Tri County Board  Has Collective Amnesia

Posted January 5, 2015  11:55 pm | (1 comment)

COLUMBIA - HAMILTON - SUWANNEE COUNTY, FL – The Suwannee Valley TA (SVTA) fandango continues unabated. The constants are Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams, who has been the Chairman of the SVTA for as long as anyone can remember, and a North Central Florida culture of cronyism and back room decision making that has apparently gone on forever.

 
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