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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government"

The North Florida Broadband Authority saga continued last Friday, October 28, 2011, when after two months of blaming the Federal Government, Bradford County and its NFBA representative, Chris Thurow, and unnamed whistle blowers for the magnifying glass under which the NFBA has found itself, Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford, Chairman of the NFBA, told the NFBA Board in another of its endless emergency meetings, "The greatest threat to this project right now is the government."

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Chairman Fulford continued, "Whether it's the fact that we're local government and we can't talk to each other outside of this meeting – to actually deal with our business, or it's the amount of rules and regulations associated with the project that come down on top of us... and had it all dictated to us."

The federal government is financing this project

The NFBA project is being financed by federal stimulus dollars, money that will be paid back by your grandchildren.

NFBA Board Member, Lake City's City Manager Wendell Johnson spoke about the importance of working together with GSG (Government Services Group), the project management firm that was forced to resign from the project by the Feds.

CM Johnson said, "We cannot do this transition without Government Services Group and their two years of knowledge. We just can't."

Chairman Fulford told the Board, "GSG started out trying to lead us into this transition. Then it comes back that they're still pulling the strings. It's like -- but that's just what they do."

CM Johnson told the Board, "We're over the crisis era."

GSG's Robert Sheets weighed in from his new seat in the gallery. "The NTIA has given the NFBA an impossible task. You now have given that impossible task to Richelle (Sucara) to do something very difficult in 30 days."

Richelle Sucara, a retired Alachua County employee, was hired as the NFBA manager without a competitive process. Ms. Sucara has minimal experience in Broadband, telecommunications, and governmental utilities. She appeared at an NFBA meeting, as if by magic. The NFBA has no employees, although the NFBA Board has given her czar like powers to hire without review.

On October 26, 2011, Ms. Sucara acknowledged that she is contemplating hiring three present and former employees of GSG, without a competitive hiring process. One employee is being hired for "business development; public relations and communications; community outreach and communications." The NFBA is already paying the NFEDP and Jeff Hendry $10,000 a month for these services.

Ms. Sucara's temporary employment agreement, including her benefits, is estimated to be worth over $210,000 on an annualized basis. It has been claimed that her extensive relationship with GSG, its principals and NGN were strictly business.

Mr. Sheets continued, "We will not watch you go off the cliff... We've been doing this too long to let the lack of a memo have something crash... We are not going to watch something blow up."

Walter McKenzie of White Springs told Ms. Sucara that he had a hundred percent confidence that she could get the job done.

Epilogue

Time will tell if the Federal Government, the "greatest threat to this project," agrees with Mr. McKenzie and if they have the confidence that the American people's money and the project is in good hands in the hands of the NFBA, or if it is going to follow in the footsteps of rural Louisiana.

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

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