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Columbia County Observer

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North Florida Broadband Authority: FL's Public Record Laws the latest casualty

Besides her attack on access to public records, Attorney Springfield finally banned digital recorders from in front of the Board. Ms. Springfield's bill for two months of summer work, $53,366.50, paid for by the American People.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The North Florida Broadband Authority, the $30,000,000 Obama funded stimulus broadband project, for all it woes during the Chairmanship of Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford and its management by Government Services Group and the law firm of Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson, always maintained the highest standards when it came to complying with Florida's open meetings and public records laws. The departure of that "management team" and the subsequent election of Gilchrist County's Tommy Langford as Chairman, along with the hiring of General Manager Richelle Sucara and three new law firms (two remain) has drawn a dark cloud over Florida's nationally recognized Sunshine laws.

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Since the beginning of 2012, obtaining records from the NFBA has become more difficult than jumping through hoops of fire. The NFBA's latest general council, Jennifer Springfield, has made obtaining public records, as well as recording public meetings, a tortuous affair for governmental entities, the press and private individuals.

Recently, even the simplest public record production ceased because according to Attorney Springfield in an e mail sent on December 17, 2012, "I am out of the state this week and the winter holidays are upon us, the NFBA may not be able to respond until after the first of the year, but we will try to respond between Christmas and New Year's Day."

Ms. Springfield's response elicited the following letter from the Observer.

Dear Ms. Springfield

I hope you had an enjoyable Xmas and I am glad to see that the Springfield Holiday Season Santa Claus public records exemption has ended. Unfortunately, the foot-dragging of your office and that of the general manager appears to have been in good measure responsible for the unanimous last minute exit vote of the Suwannee County Commission from the NFBA.

On November 21, 2012, I sent public records requests to NFBA Chairman Tommy Langford and Vice Chair Pat O'Neil, in which I asked for e-mails to and from the NFBA "from October 15, 2012, until the time you respond to this request," as both Chairman Langford and Vice Chair O'Neil use their private e mail address for transacting public business.

Ignoring public records requests is nothing new for the representatives of Gilchrist County and Cedar Key. I have yet to receive any acknowledgement of those e mails or the information I had requested from either of them. In that regard you may find the following beneficial:

The statutory reference to the records custodian does not alter the "duty of disclosure" imposed by section 119.07(1), Florida Statutes, upon "[e]very person who has custody of a public record." Thus, the term "custodian" for purposes of the Public Records Act refers to all agency personnel who have it within their power to release or communicate public records. (citations omitted)

Your remarks on December 17, 2012, that neither Mr. Langford nor Mr. O'Neil "ignored your requests" are just silly. Neither one of them responded.

Common sense at the NFBA?

On December 17, 2012, I made four separate public records requests. They were included in one document and explained as such. This was done for economy; out of common sense; and to save paper, should you have wished to print them.

My first request was: By electronic delivery the audio from the 12/12/12 NFBA board meeting. Please drop into this drop box: [the link was provided]

Ms. Springfield, sending the audio via e-mail should have taken no longer than three minutes. I know because I do it all the time. At the beginning of the meeting you asked the press to remove their digital tape recorders from the Board's table and announced that the NFBA was recording the meeting. When you were asked for a copy by another reporter, you said you would be sending the recording along "quickly." You did not provide it. Locating a copy should not have been an issue.

My second request was: All SLA's (Service Level Agreements) between current Last Mile Providers and the NFBA.

I have attached the MainStreet SLA from May 2012. It took me less than two minutes to find and attach it to this e-mail. It is difficult to believe that the current SLA's are not maintained in a digital format or have not been converted into electronic documents. Attaching them to an e-mail would have taken no more than five minutes.

My third request was:  All contracts, fact sheets, and e-mails referencing the "CO_BRANDING (10% Revenue)" highlighted in the NFBA invoice dated 9/1/2012, which is attached for your reference. (Dropping those into the drop box also works)

Ms. Springfield, it took one minute and 30 seconds for me to locate the invoice and attach it. The last mile provider named in that invoice explained that he was not sure what co branding is, nor had he ever seen any documentation explaining what it was. It is difficult to believe that said information is so extensive and spread so far throughout the universe that it would take more than 15 minutes to find and attach to an e-mail.

My fourth request was: All financial information on file with the NFBA, or its surrogates, for any last mile provider that has provided such information to the NFBA.

On December 17, as background for my 4th request for public records, I wrote the following: In the past, the NFBA General Manager has explained that she knew nothing of the finances or business plan of Mainstreet, the NFBA's first partner. It is not clear what the NFBA knew about SVIC, as in Madison County, Mr. Johns of SVIC contradicted the NFBA's characterization (by Mr. Lort) of SVIC. In that regard, I am requesting the following be made available for inspection and copying: All financial information on file with the NFBA, or its surrogates, for any last mile provider that has provided such information to the NFBA.

It is clear that the NFBA had no financial information regarding Mainstreet. From the disparaging public remarks by both NFBA Project Manager, Donny Lort and General Manager Richelle Sucara, it appears that the NFBA had obtained no information from Last Mile WiFi.

SVIC was contracted two and a half months after Mainstreet and according to Project Manager Lort was only a one-man shop. It would be difficult to believe that extensive research would be necessary to come up with financial information that is on file at the NFBA regarding SVIC.

That leaves two other businesses that should be in possession of executed SLA's from the NFBA, Rocket Comm in Georgia and Webkraft in Florida, which was mentioned during the December 12 Putnam County meeting.

It is difficult to believe that it would take more than 15 minutes to make available for inspection and copying the financial information from the last two mentioned companies.

After dragging your feet and invoking the Santa Claus exemption to stall turning over the records, you sent an email in which you stated in relevant part: Due to the extensive nature of the request, advance payment of a special service charge will be required in the amount of $280.75... This response is based upon chapter 119, Florida Statutes, and NFBA's policy.

Chapter 119 of the Florida statutes is almost 17,000 words. Maybe you could have been a little bit more specific.

What NFBA Policy?

Your reference to the NFBA's policy is puzzling. I've been following the NFBA extensively for quite some time. I have checked with other folks that attended NFBA meetings and they have never heard of any NFBA policy regarding public records.

While you had threatened Columbia County with a possible charge for providing records, they were never charged.

Suwannee County was recently provided with numerous records, electronically; they were never charged.

It appears that you, either as a private actor or on behalf of the NFBA, are claiming "extensive" use of time for things that should take no more than 15 minutes and that you are singling certain individuals out for these charges.

If you are maintaining that those bizarre charges are meaningful, please send me an itemized description for each one of the requests explaining what records are going to be provided and how much time was spent past 15 minutes to find them.

I respectfully remind you that to conspire to withhold public records in the state of Florida is a criminal offense. I think you and the general manager would do well to consider that.

With best wishes for the New Year.
Stew Lilker Publisher/Editor
Columbia County Observer

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