Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority: $30 mil later N. Central Florida Regional Planning Council - clueless

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night's dinner meeting of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council (NCFRPC) came up short without any definitive explanations and statistics regarding job creation in the region or the progress and future on what has repeatedly been described as a primary engine of economic growth in the North Central Florida region, the North Florida Broadband Authority.

Not Qualified to answer - who is?

Bryan Thomas is the NCFRPC's Economic Development Program Director and represents the Regional Planning Council on the Board of Directors of the NFEDP (North Florida Economic Development Partnership), the organization that has received over $300,000 for community outreach to promote the broadband project. When asked for an update of the Obama Stimulus funded Broadband Project Mr. Thomas said, "I'm not qualified to give you an answer."

The Planning Council's Economic Development Program Director, Bryan Thomas, presents the Planning Council's power point on economic development.                 (++ Click to enlarge slide)

For almost 15 minutes the Planning Council's Bryan Thomas read the Council's slide by slide meaningless power point presentation on economic development in North Central Florida. In the back of the room his presentation was barely audible as he spoke with his back to half of the people present.

Mr. Thomas's presentation included a slide on the North Florida Economic Development Partnership.

The NFEDP is another North Central Florida organization that meets and eats and talks about how they collect and spend federal and state grant money. That is taxpayer money.

The North Florida Broadband Authority

The North Florida Broadband Authority Project has been the poster child of accomplishment for the NFEDP and its Executive Director, Jeff Hendry, FSU's Director of the Institute of Government since 2009, even though the feds temporarily suspended the project based on allegations of waste, fraud and abuse; its project manager has had badges of fraud pinned on him by a federal bankruptcy judge; and its $15,000 a month general manager has no telecommunications or real world business experience.

When a slide showing the NFEDP and the North Florida Broadband Authority Project came on the screen, Economic Development Program Director Thomas told the gathering, "I serve as your representative of the Board of Directors for the NFEDP."

Mr. Thomas explained the $30,000,000 NFBA project as "that rural broadband expansion, which is that middle mile project to get broadband across the region."

The Observer asked, "Could you give me an update on the NFBA, please – where they are with that $30,000,000 dollar grant?"

Economic Development Program Director Thomas replied, "I'm actually not qualified to give you that answer because I'm not directly involved with it."

The Observer followed up, "Is anybody, here?"

Mr. Thomas answered, "Here, I don't know. I recommend you contact the North Florida Broadband Authority."

The Observer, "They don't answer their phone."

Mr. Thomas, "OK. I'm sorry; I'm just not qualified to go into it, because it's not one of my areas that I actually directly work with."

Someone asked Mr. Thomas where the NFBA meets. Mr. Thomas didn't know.

Attending the gathering was Madison County's Director of Economic Development, Alan Cherry. Mr. Cherry is also Madison County's representative on the NFBA and the past president of the NFEDP during the formation of the Broadband Authority.

Madison County has been an outsized recipient of the largesse of the NFBA, having jettisoned its private industry provider and then the NFBA's last mile provider for a free hook up which included free equipment and technical support paid for by the American People.

For some reason Mr. Cherry didn't want to share his North Florida Broadband Authority success story with his fellow attendees.

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