Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority: 
Feds come to town – Working under the cover of darkness was their MO

The North Florida Broadband Authority, the poster child for yet another dysfunctional federal program gone mad, met yesterday morning at its newly rented NFBA HDQ in Lake City, Florida. Of course, like everything else with the NFBA, the American People are paying the rent. In town for a secret sit down were two representatives of the Federal Government, Chris Holt and Doug Kinkoph of the NTIA. An hour into the meeting, they threw your reporter out.

stories are here

The feds have a lot to hide in the local and federally mismanaged program. The three major firms that have been involved in the program since its inception have been forced to resign. Only the pseudo governmental agency, the NFEDP and its Executive Director Jeff Hendry still survive, although Mr. Hendry stated publically that he was contemplating resignation, after records were turned over to the US Attorney showing that he allegedly falsified material used to substantiate his $10,000 a month contract.

Subsequent to that, another batch of information was turned over to the US Attorney. Again Mr. Hendry claimed that he made a presentation, this time to Gray Swoope, Florida's new Secretary of Commerce. An examination of the audio from that meeting clearly indicates that Mr. Hendry didn't say one word, if he was at the meeting at all.

This is a normal sign at a tower site. Notice the no trespassing.

The Meeting – Under the cover of darkness – A lot to hide

Yesterday morning the Feds Chris Holt and Doug Kinkoph met with the NFBA Interim Executive Director, the new NFBA Chairman, Tommy Langford, the remnants of the resigned Government Services Group staff, Jacobs Engineering, and their new attorneys.

It was obvious as the first hour of the meeting progressed why the Feds wanted to operate under the cover of darkness, keeping the NFBA Board, the public and the press out of the meeting. There is lot to hide.

No one kept official notes of the meeting and it was not recorded.

When Ms. Sucara introduced Faith Doyle, the NFBA Clerk, who was sitting in front of her lap top, the feds Mr. Kinkoph asked, "And you're taking notes of the meeting? You are taking notes of this meeting?"

Ms. Doyle told Mr. Kinkoph that she was working on the agenda.

Mr. Kinkoph replied, "I just wasn't sure if you were taking notes."

He did not encourage her to do so.

As the talk evolved into a discussion of Rapid Systems, Mr. Kinkoph inquired about GSG's continued involvement.

It has been apparent for some time that even though GSG has been asked to resign, they just "Keep Hanging On."

The NFBA is contemplating hiring and/or contracting with six of the employees of the resigned company, while at the same time extending GSG's contract for accounting, one of the things that got them in trouble with the Feds in the first place.

Mr. Kinkoph told the gathering, "The longer GSG's involved -- when we go back it's going to be raising flags. The quicker we can move things over ...

The Feds Holt cut him off, "We have to manage expectations."

Mr. Kinkopf said, "Not the end of January to make it happen. The Asst. Sec said 30 days."

It appears that nobody in the Federal Government knows how to count or cares to.

Rapid Systems, the little company that can. Is it getting a bad rap and a raw deal?

Rapid Systems is owed approximately $600,000 by the NFBA. For a small company, that kind of debt can be death. Like many of the other companies involved in this project, creditors are hounding them and their good name is being besmirched because of what appears to be GSG stonewalling and the NFBA's failure to submit invoices to the federal government for work already performed.

The Federal Government knows this; they know the quality of the work of Rapid Systems from their inspections of tower sites and their engineering in the FRBA project and Jacobs clearly knows and articulated such at a public meeting a couple of months ago in Lake City. Why Jacobs Engineering, a company that prides itself on its integrity, changed its mind is not clear.

It has been clear to anyone who has been following this project that Rapid Systems has been singled out by GSG and the NFBA.

The Feds Kinkoph, "Here is my question. How did all the Rapid Systems' invoices get set aside on the $1.6 million (draw) and everybody else's didn't? Given the friction between GSG and Rapid, that raises a flag that there is some interplay going on there."

This is a tower site. The cabinets and fencing with barbed wire is clearly visible. The cabinets all have locks for obvious reasons.

The NFBA Interim Director Sucara: I don't know.

Mr. Kinkoph:  Are there any more invoices sitting at GSG, that are valid invoices that should be paid?

Ms. Sucara: (In part) I know that there's a lot of invoices.

There was conversation regarding the many invoices that have been taken at face value and then Mr. Kinkoph asked Ms. Sucara, "So why do Rapids get carved out?"

Ms. Sucara: "That was before my time. All of that was before my time."

Mr. Kinkoph:  So was Rapid's.

Ms. Sucara:  Right.

Mr. Kinkoph:  How did they all get carved out?

Ms. Sucara:  I don't know to be quite honest.

GSG employee, Donny Lort, who the NFBA has on the docket to be hired, gave his take. He explained that Rapid shouldn't have been paid since March of 2011. He explained that Jacobs was the quality assurance engineer.

Mr. Kinkoph:  So Jacobs looked at all the invoices?

Mr. Lort:  No -- No. They haven't had a chance to look at all the invoices.

In eight months Jacobs, who was under contract to the NFBA has not had a chance to look at the invoices?

Ms. Sucara:   I'd like to direct the conversation.

Mr. Kinkoph:  You can direct it, but I want an answer.

Ms. Sucara:  I know, but looking in the rear view mirror doesn't get us where we need to be.

Mr. Kinkoph:  But it's when it suits your time. Right now you have a small entity that needs to get paid like everybody else. So when I say we are going to pay x y and z, I shouldn't hear any pushback from you guys, because it shouldn't cause you any heartburn.

This is the chain of locks that is on every tower site across the US.

Securing the tower sites – who is telling the truth

The Fed's Chris Hold then asked, "Have they (Rapid) been securing the sites?"

GSG's Lort: No – Just GSG. We tried to get them involved but they wouldn't even let us come down and get locks.

The facts are clear on this. All the sites and the equipment cabinets have been secured.

The Tower sites are owned by tower companies like American Tower. Everyone – ATT – Verizon – the NFBA – the tower companies have their own locks on the sites and their cabinets are locked. The sites are surrounded by 8 feet of chain link fence topped with rows of barbed wire. This is common practice around all tower sites. The equipment is worth millions of dollars and they are not safe places to be wandering around.

Late last night a call was made to Rapid's CFO, Denise Hamilton.

The Observer:  Ms. Hamilton, I am sorry to bother you. GSG claims that Rapid Systems has left the tower sites unsecured.

Ms. Hamilton:  That's crazy.


Shortly after the tower security situation came to light, your reporter was led to a back room where he was asked to leave by the NFBA Attorneys. After a brief conversation, where he was reminded that the police department was right across the street, he asked to speak with the Feds.

Mr. Kinkoph and Mr. Holt wound their way into the back room. Your reporter asked if he was getting thrown out. They said no.

Your reporter said then he would stay.

They said then we are asking you to leave. The Feds said they were going to be asking sensitive questions.

Your reporter reminded the Feds and the new NFBA Attorneys that this was not a top secret military project and that it was a project being financed by the American People and that they have right to know what is going on with their money and their grandchildren's money.

"Not having the facts is one of the things that has made this project such a mess," he said.

When NFBA Attorney Wiggins told your reporter he could ask about the meeting at tomorrow's NFBA meeting, your reporter reminded the group that no one was taking notes of the meeting.

The Feds again asked your reporter to leave. Your reporter left under protest.

And folks wonder why nobody trusts the Government.

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

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