Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Another 12th Hour Meeting Cancellation at the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority

COLUMBIA, HAMILTON, SUWANNEE COUNTIES, FL – Another failure to follow the Florida statutes regarding meeting notice requirements has caused Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) Chief, Suwannee County Commissioner Larry Sessions, to cancel another SVTA Board meeting in as many weeks.

Our March 7, 2017 article, Suwannee Valley TA Chief Fails at End Run Around Law –Improperly Noticed Meeting Canceled at 12th Hr, detailed some of the recent history of the SVTA and how Commissioner Sessions and the SVTA made a full court press trying to find someone to help the SVTA make an end run around the notice requirements of the law.

History Repeats Itself or Instant Replay

More SVTA articles

On March 6, for a brief time around 11 am, the SVTA's home page mentioned the meeting cancelation: "Tonight's special called board meeting has been cancelled. (3/6/2017)"

On March 7, the SVTA reposted the meeting information: "The date for the special called board meeting has been changed to March 13, 2017..." This time the SVTA also included the required links to the agenda and supporting material."

The SVTA service area is over 2,000 sq mi. Florida law required the SVTA to advertise its meeting notice in the three local print newspapers in the tri-county region. It didn't.

On March 10, Columbia County's County Attorney Joel Foreman sent an email to Columbia County's SVTA Board members that said, "I consider it my duty to provide counsel to members of the Board and advise them if I believe their participation in a meeting might run afoul of Florida law. I am concerned that the meeting now set for March 13 has not been set in compliance with the requirements of Florida Statutes Ch. 189, the Uniform Special District Accountability Act."

Mr. Foreman also reminded the Columbia County commissioners, Nash and Phillips, that to knowingly violate the notice requirements and attend the meeting would subject them to being charged with a second degree misdemeanor, which is a criminal offense. (click the link to read Mr. Foreman's email)


This morning, March 13, SVTA chief Sessions said he checked the meeting notice requirements with the Suwannee River Water Management District, "with the person who does that stuff for them." Then he found out the Water Management District has different notice requirement rules.

While we were talking, Commissioner Sessions said he was waiting to hear from his attorney, SVTA Attorney Hal Airth, to see if it was required to cancel the meeting.

At just about 10:45 am, Mr. Sessions said he had received the email from Mr. Airth and the meeting was canceled. He did not know when it was going to be rescheduled.

Almost three hours later, the meeting cancellation was still not posted on the SVTA website.

Shortly after the conversation with Commissioner Sessions, your reporter sent a request under Florida's public record law to forward Mr. Airth's email. So far, it hasn't arrived.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On March 16, 2017, former SVTA Dir. of Operations William Steele wrote:

Since 2014 I have been following the demise of SVTA. At that time Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams, who was the chairman of the SVTA Board, took actions to move SVTA “in another direction.”

At the start of 2012, Commissioner Williams and the SVTA board put in place a team to clean up the SVTA mess. Gwen Pra, a former Florida Department of Transportation professional was hired as the SVTA Administrator. Administrator Pra found that SVTA was in the direst of straits with $1.8+M debt, and many unpaid vendors. The SVTA was out of compliance with many DOT regulations and it had failed in its mission. This was as a result of the three agencies that were supposed to watch over SVTA: the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD), Executive Director Steve Holmes, the Local Transportation for the Disadvantaged Board (LCB) under the North Central Florida Planning Council, Executive Director Scott Koons and Transportation Coordinator Lynn Godfrey, and the Gainesville Medicaid Office with point of contact Alana McKay.

With Ms. Pra’s team on board, all that changed 180 degrees. By the end of 2013 SVTA was in full compliance as a well-run state transportation agency, as proven by every inspection done during that time. The SVTA was not only out of debt, but had strong positive cash flow without any extra cash infusion by the three County Governments. The turnaround occurred despite the obstacles put up by those who had clear intent on destroying Ms. Pra and SVTA.

Now, one can only shake one’s head in disgust at that “new direction” Commission Williams demanded and that SVTA has taken since Ms. Pra's departure.

With the present administrator unable to follow the law when it comes to advertising its meetings, one can only wonder what else is being overlooked.

The citizens of the region and the customers that depend on SVTA must be really proud of how SVTA has turned out!

Wm. Steele


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