Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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FGC's McKee Involved in Broadcast Fiasco – Again Forum Canceled - Chamber Runs for Cover

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The latest  Florida Gateway College / Lake City-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce / Lake City Reporter Candidate Forum fandango picked up where the last one left off: in disarray, furious emails, sub-rosa communications, texting, and a Chamber letter which kicked over Mrs. O'Leary's lantern.

Background: The Chamber Letter

On October 8, 2018, the Lake City-Columbia County Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) wrote a letter to candidates running for public office in Columbia County inviting them to attend a candidate forum at Florida Gateway College (FGC).

The Letter began: "Congratulations on making the General Election in November. As a public service to the voters of our area, Florida Gateway College, and the Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce will be telecasting forums featuring qualified candidates seeking office in the November general election."

On or about October 12, your reporter briefly spoke with FGC President Barrett regarding the letter (he said he was not aware of the letter or any contracts); and on October 15 filed a formal written public records request for the contracts between FGC and the Chamber for the use of FGC's TV studio. A copy of the Chamber letter, which was signed by Chamber Gov't. Relations Chair Mike Williams, was included with the request.

It was clear that Chairman Williams considered this forum a joint effort.

At 2:41 pm, October 15, Sharon Best of FGC responded to the request: "In response to your Public Records request ... we have no documents to submit."

It appeared that the College, or at least FGC's McKee, also considered this a joint effort between the Chamber and the College, as this time there was no mention of the Lake City Reporter in the correspondence. As Mr. McKee is in contact with the LCR, it is not clear how or if they were advised or collaborated on the Chamber letter.

October 17: Chamber Goes MIA

Your reporter heard through the grape vine that Chamber President McKee, the same McKee who is the spokesperson for FGC, was laying low. As you will see later: not so low as to end surreptitious communication with his friends at the Lake City Reporter.

In the late morning, your reporter called the Chamber and asked that Mike Williams and Chamber future president Noah Walker give your reporter a call.

Neither Mike Williams, nor Mr. Walker returned the call.

By 12 pm yesterday, it appeared that the Candidate Forum was still on.

Mike McKee Goes MIA

At 2:36 pm your reporter, after trying to reach out to Mr. McKee by cell phone and text, sent an email:

Mike, I hope this finds you well. I tried to call a little while ago and could not leave a message because your voice mail was full. I also sent a text. I have a couple of questions regarding the scheduled upcoming Chamber/FGC Candidate production. I would appreciate a call. Thanks, Stew

Mr. McKee ignored all attempts at inquiry.

Observer Reaches Out to President Barrett, the Chamber, the LCR

At 3:19 pm, your reporter reached out FGC President Barrett, the Chamber, and LCR's Robert Bridges via email.

The email began:

Once again there is excitement building regarding the scheduled upcoming Chamber/FGC Candidate Forum... Many citizens are looking forward to the event, however, they are concerned that the Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce will again fix the questions in order to favor the Chamber's chosen candidates and certain other republican candidates.

The email continued, "I don't see that two candidate questioners would be a problem with the Chamber or FGC, as one of the foundations of Democracy is free and fair elections and any chance the College had to help inform Columbia County voters and the public would be welcomed and encouraged by all parties to that end."

The email concluded: "I am looking forward to the courtesy of a prompt reply, as time is short, and as a Florida court had found, 'News delayed is news denied'."

A copy of this email was forwarded to long time FGC Board Chairperson Suzanne Norris.

The complete email is here.

Everybody Runs for the Hills
It gets more bizarre

At 4:24 pm yesterday, an unsigned purported official joint statement by both the College and the Chamber was sent to the media. The statement was not on College stationary. It was not sent by FGC spokesperson McKee.

"It has come to our attention that the Candidate Forums hosted and televised by Florida Gateway College and organized by the Lake City - Columbia County Chamber of Commerce each election cycle have become a source of controversy and contention. As a result, the integrity of the institutions involved has been called into question.

With this in mind, and in an effort to avoid any appearance of impropriety, we have decided that the best course of action is to discontinue the 30-year tradition of holding Candidate Forums at FGC.

Neither organization will provide further comment.

While the Chamber of Commerce receives thousands in both the City and County tax dollars, it is a private organization and only its collective conscience determines whether it should comment or not.

However, Florida Gateway College is a pubic college supported by millions of  public tax dollars with a president that earns hundred's of thousands of tax dollars and a board appointed by the Governor. It is not clear how the College Board or its president it feels it does not owe the public "further comment."

Today's LCR Gives its Version of the Tale

Fact: Mike McKee is the well known FGC spokesperson and the President of the Chamber.

Fact: LCR Publisher Todd Wilson is a past president of the Chamber.

Fact: LCR Editor Robert Bridges and Mike McKee are past college roommates and decades old friends.

FACT: According to the LCR, it was texting with Mike McKee yesterday morning.

It must be understood that LCR Robert Bridges and his compadre, Publisher Todd Wilson run the LCR with iron fists and questionable journalistic integrity. Lake City's Mainstream Media Rakes Mayor Over the Coals: Sends Message to New City Manager

For sometime folks have been complaining about the content and quality of the LCR reporting. Lake City's Mainstream Media: Lake City Reporter - A Growing Deception of News Coverage

One candidate recently told your reporter, "It is hard to understand how the LCR can be impartial after they have already endorsed candidates."

Today, the Lake City Reporter gave its version of this story. It is here.


This is truly a sad time for voters in Columbia County. Once again, Florida Gateway College, a privileged space for democratic action, has shown its butt to the public.

The Lake City/Columbia County Chamber of Commerce, under the leadership of President Mike McKee, incoming president Noah Walker, and especially the Chamber's Government Relations' Chair and a top man at Nutrien (the former PCS) Mike Williams, has shown itself to be nothing more than a Republican Pac in the new era of Trump World.

And where are the Governor's FGC Board and its long time chairperson Suzanne Norris?

Who knows?

"Neither organization will provide further comment."

Lake City/Columbia County: the legend continues.

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Integrity Challenged: FGC's McKee Kept College Pres Unaware of Uninvited Forum Candidates


Integrity Challenged: Was FGC College President Larry Barrett Forced to Drink the Kool Aid? Part II


The FGC Candidate Forum Chronicles Continue: Part III