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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City

Lake City's Mainstream Media Rakes Mayor Over the Coals: Sends Message to New City Manager

LAKE CITY, FL – Eighteen months ago around midnight, Mayor Steve Witt's car drove itself into Lake DeSoto after he left the Elks Lodge, a well known local hangout for Columbia County's politicians, movers and shakers. He had too much to drink.  CVC"I was feeling dizzy because of a new blood pressure medication I was taking and got out of my car to get some air. I didn't take it out of gear and it drove itself into the lake," he said today. Six months later Mayor Witt pleads no contest to a DUI. The story could have ended right there, but Columbia County's mainstream media, the local version of Pravda, had a message to send.

A Little History

In July 2008, the then editor of the Lake City Reporter (LCR), Todd Wilson took over as the publisher of the paper. In June of 2011, Robert Bridges took over as the editor of the paper.

The LCR has been merciless writing about local politicians who have fallen out of favor with Columbia County's good ole' boys. Beginning in 2006 with Commissioner George Skinner; moving on to ex City Manager Scott Reynolds; then lambasting Sport Marketing Director Kelly Lowrey; dissecting Econ. Dev. Director Glenn Hunter; and before they set their sights on Lake City's popular Mayor Steve Witt, going after Commissioner Rusty DePratter.

While the LCR had legitimate news stories to report about the just mentioned individuals, Messer's Wilson and Bridges revisited articles about those folks, rehashing the same material time and time again, like they were picking at a scab.

 The Latest Victim


It wasn't clear why after this article the newspaper kept hammering the Mayor.

Lake City Mayor Steve Witt was the LCR's latest victim. This past Sunday's editorial by the paper was more like a decree by overzealous maniacs than a well reasoned opinion piece by a thoughtful and talented newspaper, which it is not.

Your reporter spoke with Mayor Witt on Sunday evening and earlier today.

Your reporter asked the Mayor if he had stopped drinking.

Mayor Witt said he stopped drinking the night his car went into the Lake and hasn't had a drink since.

Your reporter asked if he had been charged with another DUI.

He said he had not.

Your reporter asked about the claim in the March 2018 FL Bar Report and reported in the newspaper that he had "admitted to excessive alcohol use, to trying to quit drinking at least 20 times, and to driving under the influence at least 50 previous times."

Mayor Witt responded with his side of the story:

"The comments about 50 times and 20 times and all that. That was some evaluator's opinion. He said over 40 years, you know, he said have you ever drove over the limit. I said, 'I don't know. Nobody's ever tested me.' He said, 'Would you say that you've had more to drink than you might [have]. I said, 'Sure, maybe a few times, I don't know.' He said, 'Well, over 40 years that you've been driving, wouldn't it be more that 50?' And I said, 'I don't know.'"

And then he said in his exact words, in the exact words, he said, 'You never tried to quit drinking. And I said, 'No.'

He said, 'You never tried to quit?'

I said, 'The only thing I can tell you is eating donuts or fried food or just being healthy. Everybody thinks about being healthy.' And that's where he took it, 'Well so, maybe 20 times.' And that's over 40 years.

That's not like I never thought I had a drinking problem. I had to stop. I did quit, because it's just better for me and I decided not to have a drink, because people would raise hell about it. So I just quit and stopped.

The 40 years was since I was 21 years old. That was his number. He said, 'Over 40 years maybe 50 times.' That's where that number came from."

Your reporter asked, "You were supposed to take some kind of course?"

Mayor Witt answered, "I done everything everybody's asked me to do. It hasn't affected my license to practice law. I still practice law. I still practice law every day, just like I always have."

The Mayor continued, "I made a mistake that night and I've done everything since then to make up for it. And of course I am sorry if what I did reflects poorly on Lake City."

Your reporter asked, "At the trial you pleaded no contest and threw yourself on the mercy of the court?"

Mayor Witt answered, "Yes. That's it."

Doing the crime and doing the time
Not good enough for the LCR brass

Steve Witt did not go judge shopping as some defendants in Lake City have done. A judge was brought in from Madison County, heard the evidence, and pronounced judgment. That is the way the system works, but not for Publisher Todd Wilson and Editor Robert Bridges.

In their editorial the LCR claimed that the Mayor embarrassed the town. We have been unable to find anyone who thought "the town" was embarrassed besides Mr. Wilson and Mr. Bridges.

The LCR demanded a press conference. All the elected officials in Lake City no longer speak with the newspaper. The former City Manager, Wendell Johnson, stopped talking with the newspaper after Robert Bridges purportedly made a deal for exclusive coverage and then broke the deal.

The LCR is demanding that the Mayor publically ask the community to forgive him.

Even though he has paid the price for his DUI and had his license suspended and then reinstated, the paper is demanding he "surrender his driver's license for the remaining two years of his term of office."

In the Wilson-Bridges missive they concluded with the following: "If the mayor cannot publicly ask forgiveness for his mistakes, get the help he needs, and agree not to get behind the wheel while in office, he should resign. Otherwise, no one will really think of him as mayor anymore anyway."

We don't know anybody who feels that way, although there may be a few out there.

Mayor Witt Is and Has Been An Example
When Presiding at Gov't. Meetings

Mayor Witt, along with the rest of the City Council gives everyone the opportunity to address the City Council without bells, gongs, or chimes as is done across the street at the County. He allows all to petition their government.

Years ago, the lead attorney at the Three Rivers Legal service addressed the City Council, telling the Mayor and the Council, "I like what I see here."

More Than Meets the Eye


LCPD City Manager Investigation: Background Check or Stassi Like Police Overreach? The Lake City Reporter was aware of the procedure and didn't take exception.

The recent discovery that the LCPD was sending its police, who have no jurisdiction outside of Lake City, into communities to gather dossiers on city manager candidates and has been doing it for years with other city manager candidates and other employees should be a wakeup call for everyone.

Many believe that Danielle Judd sent her 12th hour withdrawal for consideration for the city manager position because she was so appalled at the actions of the LCPD.


New City Manager Joe Helfenberger: Will he get the message?

Epilogue

The chosen candidate, the only one left standing, Joe Helfenberger should take note that the Lake City Reporter has the dossier on him collected by the police.

No doubt, it will be something Mr. Bridges and Mr. Wilson put in their back pockets and pull out if he doesn't play ball with them. It is the way they play the game, Joe.

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