Stew Lilker’s

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North Florida Broadband Authority: Tower Climber Sues - Not paying vendors - Nothing new for the NFBA

tower - looking up
A Advantage Electric climbed to the top of this tower and installed gear. The small tower climbing company had 4 men on the job. The NFBA didn't want to pay them.

stories are here

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA), sponsored by Obama Stimulus funds has sunk to another new low under the leadership of General Manager Richelle Sucara and Project Manager Donny Lort. Having jettisoned their offices in order to have enough money to pay themselves, the NFBA hierarchy is now operating out of the trunks of their cars and from a post office box. Not paying vendors, an issue in the past, has again reared its head at the NFBA. The latest casualty: A Advantage Electric, a small company, tower climbers out of Jacksonville, Florida.

Ryan Worthington
A Advantage Electric's owner, Ryan Worthington. "In all the years I've been in business I've never had a problem like this."

A Advantage Electric's owner, Ryan Worthington was forced to take the NFBA to court and to get paid for two tower climbs: the invoices date back to October and December 2012. The NFBA claims Mr. Worthington didn't submit the required documentation. After months of trying to obtain a purchase order from the NFBA for the December 2012 invoice, Mr. Worthington was forced to finally send an invoice without a P.O. number to the NFBA in April, 2013.

According to Mr. Worthington, he sent along more information to the NFBA at the request of the NFBA's Project Manager Donny Lort. He never heard from him again.

Jacobs Engineering

Ryan Worthington, the owner of A Advantage, had been doing work for Jacobs Engineering on another project. Jacobs was the fourth engineering firm involved in the NFBA grant.

Mr. Worthington said, "Jacobs called me Saturday evening and asked if I could do a job for the NFBA on Sunday. I told them yes, but that I would have to charge overtime."

The Sunday job had Mr. Worthington's tower crew driving from Jacksonville, FL to Macclenny, FL; Macclenny to Lake City to pick up parts; Lake City back to Macclenny for the tower climb; then back to Jacksonville: mileage approximately 134.

According to industry sources, who only spoke with the Observer under the condition of anonymity, the normal rate for a Sunday tower climb is $2,500 to $4,500.

The Observer said, "It looks like you gave them a discount."

Mr. Worthington laughed, "Yeah, and this is what we got."

About the time this was going on, Mr. Lort had been given a secret $15,000 pay raise by the NFBA General Manager Sucara, as well as a travel stipend of $1,200 a month. This was never announced any place. The email authorizing the secret raise is here.

What happened next?

The Observer asked Mr. Worthington, "What happened next?"

Mr. Worthington answered, "I finally got a hold of Richelle Sucara. I think she’s in the finance department."

The Observer, "Do you know what job she does?"

Mr. Worthington said, "I think she does the billing... I talked to her on the phone and then she sent me a text with her phone number. She gave me her email address, so I sent everything to her. About a month later I sent her another text to find out if anything was going on with these invoices. "'What’s going on?'" I didn’t get a response."

$1,800 for a $3,000 job: the NFBA didn't want to pay

The Observer, "Can you tell me a little bit about the other job you had trouble getting paid for?"

Mr. Worthington, "Sure, the $1,800 Tallahassee job that should have been $3,000: I had four men on the job; we had to pick up the material from their warehouse; put it on a trailer and haul it out to Tallahassee and install it. We were about 240 feet in the air."

looking down from 240 ft
Looking down from 240 feet. There is not a elevator to the top.

Mr. Worthington continued, "After trying for three months to get a purchase order from the NFBA I sent them an invoice. They didn't want to pay it."

The Observer, "Do you have any idea why that was?"

Mr. Worthington answered, "We had done other jobs for them. We are an honest company. Some of the jobs we did may have only taken an hour or were only a short climb. We bill for what we do. Donny (Lort) claimed we were overcharging."

The tower climbing business community is a tight knit community. According to reports beginning around the first of the year the NFBA was having difficulty finding tower companies that were willing to work them.

Who is paying to defend the law suit?

The North Florida Broadband Authority is funded by the American People. The NFBA refused to pay Mr. Worthington for his costs and fees, which amounted to $390.

Eighty dollars was paid to the Columbia County Sheriff, who unable to find Mr. Lort at NFBA headquarters, was forced to track him down and serve him at his home in Alachua.

Mr. Worthington told the Observer, "I would like to go back in front of the Judge and make my case for my costs, but it is just not worth my time. I have a business to run and I have to work."

The Observer asked NFBA General Council, Jennifer Springfield, how it was that the NFBA would not pay Mr. Worthington's court costs and fees. Ms. Springfield explained that the Federal Government would pay for her to go to court, but they wouldn't pay the costs and fees for Mr. Worthington to get the NFBA into court.

NFBA Finance: Running on fumes the NFBA is going back to the feds for more money. How much is the loan?

The NFBA announced at its last meeting as a "high point" it had $11,200 in revenue for the month of June. At the meeting before the NFBA announced its May its revenue was $11,000.

It costs approximately $300,000 a month to keep the NFBA afloat.

The NFBA has $238,000 left of the $30,000,000 grant and claims to have about 60 customers.

The NFBA General Manager is calling this a success. Their real partner, the deep pocketed NTIA, the federal agency that oversees the grant, also deems this a success.

The NFBA is scrambling to get an infusion of money from the federal government and is applying for a RUS Loan. Both the General Manager and the  Board Chairman, Kirk Reams of Jefferson County have not advised the Board nor the public of the amount of this loan request.


The North Florida Broadband Authority has claimed that everything they do is under the direction of its partner, the NTIA.

The main players at the NTIA responsible for this mess are Larry Strickland, Tony Wilhelm, Doug Kinkoph and Chris Holt.

Florida has had almost $100,000,000 of federal funds and pledged municipal assets invested in rural broadband. $34,000,000 came from RUS in a loan to Mainstreet Broadband. Mainstreet went bankrupt with 6,000 customers in Florida. While it is not clear how much influence the NTIA had in the Mainstreet debacle, they knew about it.

By the time the NTIA approved the official Mainstreet/NFBA partnership, it was too late. The federal government's over sight virtually assured the destruction of Mainstreet Broadband.

Recently, the NTIA has overseen the FRBA implosion. That Obama Stimulus Grant was won by the same team that won the NFBA grant. The $24,000,000 FRBA grant has been a fiasco and has ended up in a $25,000,000 law suit against FRBA. The main federal actors overseeing that grant: Kinkoph and Holt.

The NFBA, which is now run like a secret organization, is running on fumes and is the partner of the NTIA.

The A Advantage Electric affair should be a wakeup call to somebody in Washington.

There is something wrong when a small local businessman gets raked over the coals by the federal government and its local municipal agents and can't get paid for an honest day's work without going to court.

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