Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA road shows moves to Lake City for a double dose of free money

LAKE CITY, FL - Last night in Lake City, the proponents of big government, led by North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) insider, City Manager Wendell Johnson, took two rubber stamped steps and gave the ultra secretive Obama stimulus funded NFBA a double victory. The City Council in two 4-1 votes, first agreed to begin funding an environmental study for the proposed new worldwide headquarters for the failing NFBA. Then, twenty minutes later, voted to lease a City water tower to the NFBA for free, which will enable the NFBA to sublease it to a private business. The NFBA, a governmental agency and the private business can turn, or try to turn a profit. City Councilman Jake Hill was the only nay vote.

The Worldwide Headquarters came first

The first item for business was the funding of an environmental assessment for the Vann family's downtown building, which Richelle Sucara, the NFBA's $200,000 plus a year general manager, plans to use as the worldwide headquarters for the NFBA. The NFBA Board of Directors never approved the purchase or the funding for the future renovation of this building, which, if the deal is ever completed is estimated to cost over a million dollars.

The environmental assessment will be funded through the Lake City Community Redevelopment Authority. The purchase is expected to be funded by the City.

The free water tower

NFBA Chairman Langford and General Manager Sucara were shielded from questions by City Manager Wendell Johnson. After getting the free goods, they didn't even say "thank you".

Twenty minutes later, the City Council was presented with a 27 page lease, which was just made available to the Council at the meeting. It was clear that none of the City Council members read the lease, there wasn't time, or knew what was going on with the NFBA.

City Councilman George Ward told the Observer he didn't follow the NFBA and that he trusted the judgment of City Manager Johnson on this issue. That is the case with all the City Councilmen except Jake Hill.

Unannounced and sitting in the audience in the Council chamber, were NFBA General Manager Sucara, NFBA Chairman Tommy Langford and NFBA Vice Chair, Pat O'Neal.

City Manager Johnson did not announce them, nor did he make them available for questions from the City Council. He may have had a good reason.

The North Florida Broadband Authority has three employees; no or limited revenue; an outsized payroll; at least $750,000 of debt; has squandered millions; is under a squashed investigation by the OIG; makes up procurement rules as it goes along and has been involved in what some would call bid rigging; refuses to answer questions; is in bed with the NTIA; and appears to continue to be fully funded by Obama dollars from Washington.

Sleight of Hand

Previous incarnations of NFBA leases had a sentence that gave a current market value for the proposed property that municipalities were being asked to lease away for nothing. The attorneys and/or council members in the cities of Starke and Trenton questioned the value and questioned why their cities should give away an asset for which they could receive money, especially when the NFBA had the right to sublease the property for a profit, to a for profit business.

The councils in Starke and Trenton came to their meetings prepared and their council members, managers and attorneys peppered the NFBA representatives with questions.

In both those communities, as in Lake City, the NFBA was looking for free space on a city water tower. Additionally, both those cities had internet service, although not to the extent of the full, multi provider coverage available in Lake City.

City Manager Johnson admitted that there were some "issues" with the ($30,000,000) NFBA grant, but said the people on the NFBA Board were good people.

CM Johnson said he believed in the success of the NFBA and the NFBA is moving forward. "I am very confident that it is going to succeed," he said, adding, "We are not giving anything away, we are gaining."

The initial 8 year term of the lease, with a minimal $500 a month tower lease, will cost the City $48,000 in lost revenue.

In Lake City, long time City businessman, City Councilman George Ward was the only one who asked a question. A little while after your reporter asked the Council why the City should lease for free an asset that was owned by the people of the City, an asset that NFBA could sublease to a private business for a profit, Councilman Ward asked if there was still going to be water in the water tower.

CM Johnson told him there would still be water in the tower.

CM Johnson added, "You have to generate revenue and the way to do that is through in-kind [contributions], until you start gettin customers and growin your customer base. It's a business. It's not goin to start off bein the greatest business in the world. It's got to go through business challenges... If I thought for one minute there was somethin contrary about the NFBA, I wouldn't be a part of it."

The NFBA was supposed to have, and indeed could have had customers using the network over a year ago. All it has and had were excuses and is now over a year behind schedule.

Mayor Witt called the question. Only Councilman Hill voted against the free lease for the NFBA.

After the vote concluded, without so much as a thank you, the $200,000 plus NFBA General Manager and her troop high tailed it out of the building.


After the meeting, City Councilman Jefferson told the Observer that he didn't know anything about the NFBA adding, "That until you pointed them out in the audience, I didn't even know they were there."

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Links to the NFBA series:

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Baker County becomes the 7th north central Florida county to pull out of Obama stimulus funded NFBA

(Part XXXVII) (February 19, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds put failing stimulus funded NFBA on life support. 3yrs and $28+ mil later, 60 customers and no revenue model.
(Part XXXVI) (February 15, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Former Board Clerk sues NFBA for wrongful termination and violation of her constitutional rights
(Part XXXV) (January 30, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: $30 mil later N. Central Florida Regional Planning Council - clueless
(Part XXXIV) (January 25, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: After General Counsel's response, FL's Public Record Laws remain the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII (b)) (January 8, 2013)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: FL's Public Record Laws the latest casualty
(Part XXXIII) (January 6, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Foot dragging, lack of info cause Suwannee Cnty to call "strike 3" on the NFBA – They're out
(Part XXXII) (January 3, 2013)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Suwannee County tells the NFBA – One more strike and you're out
(PartXXXI) (December 20, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Wracked by gross mismanagement from the feds on down, the NFBA has become the poster child for non disclosure
(Part XXX) (December 18, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: More bad news. Last Mile Wifi CEO, "I knew they were going to extort me."
(Part XXIX) December 10, 2012

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA failed to make the grade in Gilchrist County
(Part XXVIII) (November 29, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Columbia County Pulls Out of Obama Funded Stimulus Project
(Part XXVII) (November 2, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: The NFBA road show traveled to an unprepared Columbia County with misinformation, half truths, and just plain lies
(Part XXVI) (Posted October 9, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Woebegotten Stimulus funded authority gets another black eye. No one bids to service the $30 mil 14 county network.
(Part XXV) (Posted October 1, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Auth: Another County pulls out. Dixie says throwing away money a major issue.
(Part XXIV) (Posted September 13, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: NFBA road shows moves to Lake City for a double dose of free money
(Part XXIII) (Posted September 5, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Secrecy and a lawyer's spread sheet. It's business as usual at the NFBA.
(Part XXII) (Posted August 22, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:  Mainstreet Broadband, NFBA's touted business partner, goes bust
(Part XXI) (Posted August 2, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Two cities say "no mas." Refuse free tower space to NFBA
(Part XX)  (Posted July 26, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Taylor County Says Goodbye, "I don't think our county should be involved."
(Part XIX) (Posted April 18, 2012)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Perry Pulls Out, City Manager tells Council, "It's just out of whack"
(Part XVIII) (Posted April 11, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Bradford County Says "No Mas" – Pulls Out
(Part XVII) (Posted April 4, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Operating in the shadows with the help of the Feds, the NFBA saga continues
(Part XVI) (posted March 29, 2012)

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson looks to make White Elephant deal with troubled North Florida Broadband Authority
(Part XV) (Posted Feb 28, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Propped up by the Feds, financed by the American People - Who can you trust?
(Part XIV) (Posted Feb 25, 2012)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Not for them

(Part XIII) (Posted Jan 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. A Look At The Numbers
(Part XIIb) (Posted Dec 29, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
A Lawyer's Dream. Money Is No Object
(Part XIIa) (Posted Dec 28, 2011)

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

(Part XI) (Posted November 23, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Feds continue investigation - Interim GM rehires resigned firms employees

(part X) (Posted Nov 11, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government"
(Part IX) (Posted November 2, 2011)

• Federal grant for broadband access in rural Louisiana rescinded: Could the North Florida Broadband Authority Be Far Behind?
(Posted October 28, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Redefining "Good Business Sense?"
(Part VIII) (Posted October 25, 2011)

• North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding – Put small vendors first
(Part VII) (Posted October 20, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Small vendors in big trouble | NFEDP/FSU's Hendry may resign (Part VIb)  (Posted Oct 14, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Blood in the street (Part VIa)  (posted Oct 13, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband." (Part V)  (posted Oct. 6, 2011)

NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project  (Part IV) (posted Sept 28, 2011)

The North Florida Broadband Authority. Its world was about to change (part III)  (posted Sept 16, 2011)

"I think we have a failure to communicate." The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues (Part II)  (posted Sept 14, 2011)

Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again
(Part I)  (posted Sept 12, 2011)