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The Great FGC – Columbia Cnty – LC Pow Wow: Not Exactly Kumbaya, But All Met In the Same Room For the First Time

photo: Florida Gateway College meeting with Lake City and Columbia County
Columbia County Observer photo & graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Relations between what used to be called Lake City Community College, now Gateway College, and the City and County, have not always been cordial. On Tuesday evening, at the invitation of College President Larry Barrett, the three bodies meet in the same room for the first time.

Who Met,  Who Pays Their Salaries, Are They Responsive?

The people elect Columbia County Commissioners and Lake City, City Council members. Commissioners and Council members take an oath of office to uphold the constitution and the laws. Commissioner and Council members are paid and receive benefits (health insurance and Florida Retirement System). If the voting public doesn't like their job, they can be voted out of office.

Commissioners and City Council members answer the public’s questions.

Florida Gateway College (FGC) has a board of trustees. The Governor appoints each member, and the legislature approves the appointment. FGC board members receive no pay or benefits; represent the Governor; do not take an oath of office.

The FGC Board is subject to the same Sunshine laws and public record laws as the City and County.

FGC Board members do not answer the public's questions.

Unlike the City and the County, there is virtually never any debate or meaningful discussion on any issue at College Board meetings.

FGC President Larry Barrett
College President Larry Barrett facilitated the meeting.

A pre-planned scheme by the FGC Board keeps everything on the consent agenda other than budget amendments and the annual budget approval. This scheme allows the Trustees to rubber stamp, without discussion, almost everything that comes before it for approval.

FGC Board President, Baker County's David Crawford welcomed the City and County officials to the College.

College President Larry Barrett took over and introduced the first item on the agenda, “Water-sewer challenges that we’re having.”

Who owns the lines traversing the College?

Lake City Utility map of main lines at Lake City Community College
1980 Lake City Utility map shows the City owns the main lines. (blue is drinking water, green is wastewater                            +++ enlarge

Dr. Barrett continued, “The big issue is the ownership of those lines. The City and the [city] staff has always been helpful to the College regarding that. Over the last few years, there's been some issues about who owns what.”

Lake City manhole cover at Florida Gateway CollegeDr. Barrett explained it was “the main lines" about which the College was concerned. He said there were "eight manhole covers [on campus] that say, ‘Lake City.’”

Dr. Barrett continued, “It’s been an issue for 47 years, this water-sewer issue. As we start doing more economic development, we really want to clear this up.”

Interim City Manager Mike Williams said, “I've reached out to Dr. Barrett. He said the City and College agreed to split the cost of a utility line map.

Photos of manhole covers, lift stations, and backflow valves show that Lake City wastewater mains and drinking water mains run through the college campus.

The Runway At Lake City Airport

Interim City Manager Mike Williams
Interim City Manager Mike Williams

There was extensive conversation about the runway at Lake City Airport, known as Florida Gateway Airport. City Manager Williams said there were no short-term plans to extend the runway.

Commissioner Ronald Williams said there would be a time in the future that the runway would be expanded.

College President Barrett said, “All the College wants to do, is when we talk about these plans, we're good neighbors -- good neighbors talk to other neighbors when they make plans and things like that.”

After showing a slide of the airport and possible route changes in Timberwolf Drive, the road leading into the College Dr. Barrett reiterated, “When we talk about these plans, the College should be involved.”

Commissioner Williams said, “We reserve the right to respect the future of the airport.”

City Manager Williams said if the runway is expanded, “We will collaborate with you.”

Councilman Todd Sampson
Councilman Sampson was not bashful about supporting economic development at the airport.

Long-time FGC Board member Suzanne Norris said, "There are some things that have been going around, and that's why we wanted to have this meeting -- out in the open where we can all talk about it…."

Councilman Todd Sampson followed up, “If economic development requires that airport to grow, I am going to do everything I can to make it grow.”

County Manager David Krause pointed out that the plans on the slide that Dr. Barrett projected “were done many years ago, back when it was called Plum Creek.

Mr. Kraus explained that the road alignment schemes were planning for the future.

Increase in traffic on Timberwolf Drive
The College Claims It Was Left Out of the Loop

Weyerhaeuser, the owner of the former Plum Creek, recently applied to the County for a land-use change. It was granted, and the County upped Weyerhaeuser’s residential project from 300 units to 1,200 units.

Dr. Barrett said the College is not against increased housing, but the College would have liked to have had some input, adding, “The College had never been contacted.”

Dr. Barrett also pointed out that at the intersection of US 90 and Timberwolf, there is no traffic light, turn lanes, or any traffic control. "I find it disheartening for our students, faculty, and staff. We're not complaining, but asking to partake in the process.”

Commissioner Ronald Williams
Commissioner Ronald Williams makes a point.

Commissioner Williams said that should it come to pass that the traffic would have to be realigned because of increased traffic, the Florida Department of Transportation would dictate the modifications in the area for traffic control.

Dr. Barrett said the College should have had input in the land-use change before the change was made.

The College did not avail itself of its opportunity to show up at the Zoning Board or the County Commission for the public hearings on the residential land-use change.

Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth explained the County had to advertise the changes, “It’s in the newspaper, it’s noticed,” he said.

Dr. Barrett admitted he knew the County didn't have to notify the College specifically. “But it’s the neighborly thing to do,” he said.

Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth
Commissioner Robby Hollingsworth talked about advertising.

Commissioner Hollingsworth followed up, “We did it just like we've done all over the County for years and years. You know, it was highly advertised.”

Mr. Hollingsworth didn’t explain what he meant by “highly advertised.”

FGC Trustee Norris was not happy with Mr. Hollingsworth’s answer. She said, “Are we to assume, that based on that, as one of the largest employers -- one of the largest economic entities in the County and the five-county area... the County wouldn't call and talk to you about what might impact you? You’d rather us show up at a public meeting and have that kind of discussion there? Is that what I'm hearing you say?”

County Manager David Kraus explained that landowners ask for land use changes.

County Manager Kraus explained the process: "The County isn't doing any of this stuff. The landowner is the one that petitions for the changes in zoning; for the changes in land use... we are merely responding to the request of the landowners.”

Commissioner Murphy:
“We need to do a better job.”

Commissioner Tim Murphy said, “We’re all in this thing as one… a simple phone call, everybody's got one of them (holds up his cell phone) -- you text 100 times a day -- thank the good Lord we're not down the road so far that we can't back up and punt again and let’s get this thing knocked up… We need to do a better job.”

Commissioner Williams followed up. He said that when a change is made to a piece of property, a "sign” goes on the property.

Commissioner Williams didn't say that folks have been complaining over the past few years that the County signs cannot be seen. Recently, after a major complaint, which the County publicaly ignored, the building department changed its signs so that they could be seen.

Commissioner Hollingsworth voiced concern that if the College were treated unlike everyone else, everyone else with the same complaints would have to be treated like the College. “That would be a lot of work, he said.”

FGC President Barrett:
He doesn’t want to go before the County

Dr. Barrett weighed in again: “Every time I speak, I don't want to go before a County Commission and have to deal with that. What I try to deal with is people like David [County Manager David Kraus], your planning director, your city manager, and they knew I was concerned… Neighbors should reach out to neighbors, especially in this. Are you setting a precedent? I don't know. I just know that we are an 88 million dollar [enterprise]; we have 48,000 graduates, 22,000 right now in Columbia County that will have a problem with this [the Timberwolf road alignment]. And I have to represent them.”

Commissioner Hollingsworth replied, “I understand completely, but we represent thousands of businesses and other places… other businesses are affected by traffic just as badly as you are.”

A backflow valve has City water flowing from a City water main.

FGC Board member Lindsey Lander, an attorney in Gilchrist County, said, "I don’t think what Dr. Barrett is sayin’ is bad - we're askin’ for any kind of special treatment. Maybe we need to be more diligent and watching for what's going on around us… we need to keep an eye on any notices that go up…. We want to make sure that we are in on the beginning stages of these projects -- having some input.”

County Manager Kraus said, “We certainly can increase the communication with the College… We will do everything that we can.”

Commissioner Hollingsworth suggested that someone from the College apply for a position on the zoning board so that they "would know everything," and that way, the County "would not have to contact everybody."

FGC Chairman Crawford weighed in, commenting about the zoning process:  “Once staff has developed a plan for a commission or board, and they're going publicly to present it -- there's a lot on the line -- there has to be some level of support on the board for that to get that far. We don’t want to show up [unintelligible] challenging. That's not our personal choice.”

Suzanne Norris
Suzanne Norris has been a College Board member for 21 years.

Trustee Norris walked back her earlier comments, “I’m not expecting the County to jump through unreasonable hoops… I don’t expect any type of special notification.”

Commissioner Williams said he had never heard anything from the College about the development at Plum Creek – Weyerhaeuser.

Dr. Barrett said he had reached out. “My fault is I didn’t go to you.”

Commissioner Witt, who was in Palm Beach with Commissioner Ford, was having trouble being recognized by the College, and finally used his phone to call in. He told the gathering that the discussions which go on at the zoning board need to be public. “To get into the weeds outside of a public meeting, I have some great concerns with that," he said. [This paragraph has been updated from the original].

Commissioner Ford followed up, “They need to attend public meetings and air their concerns like everyone else does.”

Dr. Barrett said, “We don’t want to be hidden. That’s why we’re having the Sunshine meeting today.”

FGC Board Chairman David Crawford
FGC Board Chairman David Crawford is neither a fan of public comment or answering questions.

Chairman Crawford asked if anyone else had anything to say. No one did.

Dr. Barrett asked Chairman Crawford, “Do you want to open it up to public comment?”


Like swatting an errant mosquito, Trustee Crawford didn’t miss a beat in blowing off the College President's question.

 “Thank you all so much. We really appreciate it," he said.

The meeting adjourned.

*update: The original text in the Commissioner Witt part of the article read, “Commissioner Witt, who was in Palm Beach with Commissioner Ford and forgot to turn on his microphone, finally used his phone to call in."

After the meeting, Dr. Barrett said, “They (Commissioners Ford and Witt) forgot to turn on their microphone.”  On Saturday morning (Sept. 25), Commissioner Witt texted, in relevant part: “I assure you the mic on my end was on and unmated [unmuted], as we were able to talk in the beginning… Whatever technical difficulties were going on were on the colleges [college's] end.“

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

Posted Oct. 7, 2021, SH of Lake City wrote:

Reading this article and realizing the gross arrogance, condescension and indifference to the concerns of the college representatives reminded me of the little bit of history, though murky, surrounding a very similar event that changed the course of Lake City’s history forever.

In 1905 armed forces had to be called out to, what is now the VA hospital property, to allow the tenants to pack up their belongings and leave town. The town’s’ people and much of the county realized that a community gem was leaving and attempted to stop the exodus. It was the University of Florida.

There had been an on going cod pulling over municipal services so the State of Florida and the University systems leaders, along with some political lobbying by our neighbors, decided to go where the environment was more welcoming, Gainesville.

The States people are not due any special butt kissing but what the “envy of Einstein 5”, along with the Cities spit dribblers are doing is insane.  Couldn’t they just show them that they are a vital part of this struggling community?


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