Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Columbia County News

The Columbia County 5 Fort White Fiasco:        Legal Meetings Are Difficult for Them & County Attorney Joel Foreman

Nothing they did last Thursday was legal

Photo of Com. Hollingsworth, County Aty Joel Foreman, Com. Tim Murphy, Asst. County Mngr. Kirby, County 5 Chairman Rocky Ford, Com. Toby Witt, with the caption: Milling around trying to figure it out. Commissioner Ron Williams, "That's Bullshi!t ya' all."
From left to right: Com. Hollingsworth, County Aty Joel Foreman, Com. Tim Murphy, Asst. County Mngr. Kirby, County 5 Chairman Rocky Ford, Com. Toby Witt

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County’s infamous County 5 outdid itself last Thursday afternoon when it, along with Florida’s only elected County Attorney, shucked-and-jived through two illegal meetings. Commenting on the screw-up, legendary County Commissioner Ronald Williams said, “That's bullsh!t, ya’all.”


Sometime before August 5, 2021, the County fathers and the Town of Fort White Fathers (Ft. White includes one mother in the fathers) decided to hold a joint meeting in the Fort White Community Center.

For the County 5 to meet outside of the County seat, which is Lake City, the County must do two things – both defined by the County Charter – and both simple.

It must pass a resolution stating that it is meeting outside of the County seat. It must publish, in a print newspaper of general circulation at least one week in advance of the meeting, a notice with the time and date of the meeting and the agenda of all “matters to be acted upon.”

In some places, this would be simple; in Columbia County – not so simple.

County Attorney Joel Foreman Drops the Ball

County Attorney Joel Foreman
County Attorney Joel Foreman (file photo)

Florida’s only elected County Attorney dropped the ball.

On August 5, 2021, County Attorney Joel Foreman approved a County 5 resolution which stated that the regularly scheduled meeting of the County 5 would be held in Fort White on August 19, at 5:30 pm.

Mr. Foreman overlooked the omitted the Budget Workshop scheduled for 2 pm and the Joint County-Town of Fort White meeting scheduled at 3:30 pm.

The only meeting the County 5 could have legally convened in Fort White would have been at 5:30 pm., the one in the resolution.

But, for The 5 to have the 5:30 pm meeting, it would have had to have been advertised in the newspaper, which it was not – thus – it could not have the 5:30 meeting.

Also, on the August 19, County 5 docket was a budget workshop in Fort White to finalize the County floor budget.

There was no resolution authorizing the County 5 2 pm workshop, nor was there any notice in the newspaper.

One might have thought that would have stopped them from meeting at all, but it didn't.

Under the direction of County Attorney Foreman, the 2 pm meeting came to order.

The 2 pm Illegal Meeting: “OK. Lookie here”

At about 2:12 pm on Tuesday, August 19, after milling around and trying to figure out what to do, the County 5 took its seat for an illegal meeting.

County Chairman Rocky Ford
County Chairman Rocky Ford. He did not look happy.

County Chairman Rocky Ford addressed the County 5 and members of the audience, “OK. Lookie here. There’s been some issues with advertising that we’ve just come up with – just found out about – so we’re going to adjourn this meeting – we’re not gonna have it.”

County Attorney Foreman didn’t realize or didn't tell anybody, The 5 couldn’t have the meeting it was having, as it was not in the “meeting out of County seat” resolution, or advertised.

Attorney Foreman addressed The 5, "There needs to be a motion to postpone to a date and time certain…."

County Commissioner Ronald Williams asked, “Do you mind tellin’ me what’s goin’ on.”

"What's goin' on?" 

Chairman Ford answered, “OK. Here’s what’s goin’ on. We done a resolution to move the meeting to Fort White today. But evidently, it wasn't advertised in the paper that we moved the meeting to Fort White -- am I correct?”

The 2 pm workshop was not in The 5’s resolution moving the meetings. That was the resolution approved by County Attorney Foreman.

Attorney Foreman provided additional information: “Commissioner Williams, you know how when we have to relocate a meeting we have to do a resolution… The Charter also says you have to publish it in the newspaper at least a week before. That was not done.”

Mr. Foreman continued, “The joint meeting with Fort White at 3:30 was advertised in the newspaper, so we can still have that joint meeting. But, the meeting right now, and the meeting at 5:30, will need to be postponed and moved back up to Lake City.”

The 3:30 pm joint meeting with Ft. White was not in the resolution – only the 5:30 meeting was mentioned. The resolution was defective concerning the 2 pm and 3:30 pm meetings.

Long time Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams
Veteran Commissioner Ronald Williams was not happy about the events. (file photo)

Commissioner Williams asked, “Well, when did we know this? How long did we know this?”

Mr. Foreman said he just found out about 5 minutes ago that Commissioner Murphy received an objection from a citizen. The county manager was checking with the School District to see when the auditorium was available.

There was a pregnant pause.

Commissioner Williams, a man with four decades as a County Commissioner, was not happy. He said, "We coulda' have had two meetins'. We knew this two weeks ago, and we just found out. That's bullsh!t, ya' all."

Attorney Foreman agreed.

Chairman Ford said, “Us not advertising in the paper. We are in violation of our Charter.”

After a recess to make sure the School Board auditorium was available, The 5 reseated itself at its illegal meeting.

Commissioner Williams inquired, “We can discuss items as long as we don’t take any action on [them] at this time?”

Attorney Foreman answered, "It would be preferential if you didn't because the Charter says for you to meet, you have to have given this notice. So, I would be hesitant to do anything more than what we've done right now."

Commissioner Williams asked, “Even if it do not obtain to the agenda item?”

Attorney Foreman answered, "Even if it doesn't, because you shouldn't be meeting at all without the proper notice according to the Charter… I'm not gonna tell you, you can't, but I prefer if there was nothing else done until 3:30.”

Chairman Ford said, “So, I need a motion to adjourn this meetin’ till three-thirty. We’ll be back at 3:30 with the Town of Fort White.”

The motion passed unanimously, and the meeting was adjourned.

Just Not Legal

The County 5 listen to Chairman Ford, who is out of the frame. From left to right: Commissioners Murphy, Witt, Hollingsworth, Williams.
The County 5 listen to Chairman Ford, who is out of the frame. From left to right: Commissioners Murphy, Witt, Hollingsworth, Williams.

So far, everything up to this point was not legal. The County was out of compliance with its Charter and the County’s Rules of Procedure, which Mr. Foreman cobbled together himself with only minor changes from the St. Johns County rules.

The County 5 approved those rules, which had a cure, enabling The 5 to reschedule the canceled budget workshop and the canceled regular County meeting right then and there – if anyone knew how.

This would have been simple if anyone knew “Foreman’s” rules,  which enabled the “Chair, Vice-Chair or County Manager” to “call an emergency meeting of the Board at any time to consider and take action upon a public emergency.”

Declaring an emergency to reschedule the meeting was the only legal way the Board could have met that afternoon to reschedule the meeting. Rescheduling was an emergency because budget issues, on a state mandated timeline, needed to be clarified before the budget hearings began next month.

The Thursday Fort White Joint Meeting
Fort White OK – The County 5 Not OK – Met Anyway

Because the August 5 County Resolution only mentioned the County 5, 5:30 pm meeting in Ft. White, the County could not meet, discuss the issues, and vote at the 3:30 pm joint meeting.

It didn't make a difference. The 5 met, discussed the issues, and voted anyway.


County Commissioner Ronald Williams’ remark, “This is bullsh!t, ya’ all,” hit the mark.

Unfortunately, there was more “bullsh!t” than met the eye.”

The County 5 takes an oath to uphold the laws. It is filed with the state.

Columbia County: the legend continues.

Comments (to add a comment go here

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

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.