North Florida Broadband Authority: Propped up by the Feds, financed by the American People - Who can you trust?
Posted February 25, 2012 01:30 am | Part XIV
The NFBA is a wireless microwave network. Microwaves are invisible radio waves which come out of an antenna. The NFBA's network logo is represented by a plug. Therein lies the problem.
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) is a $30,000,000 part of the Obama Stimulus Package, which was designed to bring the internet to "communities that were left behind." The NFBA is financed by the American People and has been propped up by the Feds for the past seven months, when they ordered work stopped. Although work has recently begun again, the NFBA is at least six months behind. The NFBA continues under investigation by the Federal Office of the Inspector General (Dept. of Commerce "OIG") for waste, fraud and abuse.
The Watergate tapes all over again?
Months ago the OIG requested, among other things, a copy of all audio recordings of NFBA meetings. Instead of just turning them over, the NFBA and Government Services Group (GSG), the former project manager, stonewalled the request.
At the most recent NFBA meeting, it was revealed by Interim General Manager Richelle Sucara that the audio recordings of many of the NFBA meetings have gone missing. None of the NFBA Board members seemed to care. Surely there were those who did, but those folks learned a long time ago that failure to cooperate with the majority puts one squarely on the fast track to excommunication.
The NFBA has been in operation since late in 2009 and has spent over $15,000,000 of the American People's money. It continues at least six months behind schedule; has no revenue model; no paying customers; no network operator, but 3 different operator models; no OSS/BSS, Operations Support System; an engineering firm in charge that has never built a broadband wireless network and keeps hiring consultants to help; a management team that withholds information from most of its municipal board members; an Interim General Manager who appeared out of the mist; and attorneys from here to Washington, one of whom gets $270/hr to read his IPad.
NFBA Employees - no job applications - no background checks needed
The NFBA has hired three employees. They are government employees. So far they have been paid by the American People and from an unsecured line of credit from TD Bank.
All NFBA employees were hired without the need to fill out job applications or have background or credit checks. This includes the $200,000+ Interim General Manager (IGM) Richelle Sucara.
GSG was forced to resign from the NFBA project in the fall of last year and was to break all ties with the NFBA.
Four employees from GSG were offered jobs by the NFBA, which IGM Sucara and Chairman Langford claimed were mandated by the NTIA. No documents from the Feds have ever been produced showing this to be true.
The Cadre: a group of NFBA insiders including Attorneys Brenna Durdin, Patrick Wiggins and Cynthia Schultz of Patton Boggs; IGM Richelle Sucara, Chairman Tommy Langford and Vice Chair Pat O'Neal, The Jacobs Boys; the new accountants of Purvis Gray; and Wendell Johnson
Of the four GSG employees that were originally offered contracts, two refused to work for them. This fact was well known to the Cadre, but not shared openly with the rest of the NFBA.
When the Observer questioned the hiring practice of no applications - no background checks, the IGM said the Feds made us do it.
After the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs was hired by the NFBA, one of its first acts was to get the background check issue under control with the NTIA's Doug Kinkogh.
IGM Sucara and NFBA Chairman Tommy Langford, as well as Vice Chair, Pat O'Neal, have defended the no application - no background check practice openly and often.
At full board meetings Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson had spoken out loudly in opposition to hiring without applications and background checks. Then he went along with the rest of the NFBA Cadre to hire without them.
Federal Badges of Fraud
On February 8, 2012, NFBA employee Donnie Lort was on the agenda to have his employment contract extended. After it was pointed out that the $88,000 a year Mr. Lort had gone bankrupt, Chairman Langford said he was "fine" with it and that Mr. Lort would explain privately what happened. What Mr. Langford and others knew or had to know was that Mr. Lort had Badges of Fraud pinned on him by a Federal Judge and that any mention of this 2006 employment episode was missing from his resume.
A material falsification of one's resume is grounds for instant dismissal everywhere except at the NFBA.
Project Update - First a brief look back at the NFBA equipment move - Who do you trust?
As part of the NTIA's reorganization plan for the NFBA, the NTIA's Chris Holt and Doug Kinkogh decided that all the equipment should be moved out of the general contractor's warehouses and into warehouses under the direct control of the NFBA. This ill thought out federal scheme cost the American People about 1/2 million dollars. It was arranged and supervised by the Jacobs Boys (Jacobs Engineering).
At every opportunity the NFBA's Sucara, Chairman Langford, and the Jacobs Boys said everything was going famously. Every time they mentioned there was a bump in the road, the Cadre blamed it on Rapid Systems. One NFBA Board member suggested calling the Federal Marshalls to commandeer the equipment.
In fact, the equipment move, besides being entirely unnecessary for anything except adding to the national debt, was not going smoothly. Due to safety and equipment destruction issues Rapid Systems had IGM Sucara sign a log, which detailed the deficiencies. Rapid Systems had to stop the move a couple of time because of gross safety violations, something very surprising as the Jacobs Boys claim safety is their number one concern.
Project Update - NFBA Stonewalling - A new modus operandi
Most recently, the Cadre has stonewalled Freedom of Information requests. The law requires the Cadre to respond. The Cadre doesn't need laws. The Cadre just doesn't respond.
On February 6, 2012, The Observer requested the following information:
• The final submission of Draw 29: The drawdown of millions of dollars in Federal Funds ............................ Stonewalled
• The submission of Draw 30: This could be millions more of Federal Funds. It has been kept under wraps by the Cadre from NFBA board members.............................Stonewalled
• All documents on file with the NFBA regarding the 4 former GSG employees that the IGM and Board Chairman, Tommy Langford has falsely claimed were required to be hired by the NFBA. All documents on file with the NFBA regarding the above 4 NFBA employees only as it relates to employment history, salary, federal bankruptcy, and credit worthiness. .................................................. Stonewalled
On February 13, 2012, The Observer requested the following:
• All documents submitted to the Federal Government in the past 60 days regarding the NFBA Network Redesign. This document was submitted to the Federal Government on January 27, 2012.......................................... Stonewalled
The Cadre has kept its NFBA member counties and cities in the dark about its latest Federal Draw and have not made available even a simple spread sheet of who and what was paid. The network redesign was never presented to the board and there obviously was no explanation regarding what needed redesigning.
The yellow arrows show the entire NFBA network functioning at 100% through the POP at Chiefland. Rapid Systems said they needed three weeks for the other 3 network POPS to be tested and expected the same outstanding performance.
The network redesign may be a scheme between the NTIA and the Cadre to circumvent the grant rules and make Wakulla County grant eligible. The core network was substantially completed by Rapid Systems in August of 2011 when testing began. At the September 8, 2011 Operations Committee meeting, Rapid Systems demonstrated to the NFBA and the Jacobs Boys that testing had successfully begun on the core network beginning with the POP in Chiefland.
With the network built, it is difficult to understand the meaning of Jacobs Engineering's Jeff Purdy's remarks on Feb 1, 2012: "We're going to get the core network built between now and the April - May time frame." Are they taking credit for something someone else did?
Rapid Systems told the Observer that it would have taken three more weeks to test the complete NFBA core network.
By that time the NFBA was embroiled in turmoil; the Jacobs Boys, the folks with no experience in wireless broadband, were claiming the network design was deficient and the Feds had shut the project down.
The NFBA Stakeholder Forum
On February 1, 2012, the NFBA had what it billed as a Stakeholder Forum. The call went out to various industry representatives, such as Verizon, AT&T, local service providers, and others.
The meeting kicked off with Jeff Purdy, VP of Engineering at Jacobs telling everyone where the exits were as he explained how Jacobs was a safety conscious company. (see the move - above)
Then Mr. Purdy explained, "We're sorry, but Richelle Sucara could not be here today. She has been down with the flu. We were hoping to get her here on the mend. She is taking – getting over the rest that she needs right now."
Jacob Engineering's Jeff Purdy (File photo)
Two hours later the Observer bumped into IGM Sucara in NFBA headquarters. She was dressed to the nines and looked to be the picture of health.
One of the visitors to the stakeholder forum asked, "Out of the thirty something million dollars that was set aside for the project, how much money's been spent so far?"
Mr. Purdy, "I don't have that number at this time."
Visitor, "Within a couple million, maybe?"
Nobody knew. The accountant was in the room and general council was in the room. About half was the best the NFBA Cadre could come up with.
Visitor, "What caused the problem that the heat got put on in the middle of all this? [The Federal Government shut down the project]
The Stakeholder Forum was scheduled for three hours. Shortly after Jacobs Engineering's top man on the project refused to answer the question the meeting concluded. The meeting lasted one hour, thirteen minutes, and 12 seconds.
Financed by the American People; propped up and under investigation by the Feds; hiring practices beyond the pale; no revenue; out of operating funds; no business model; operating under the cover of darkness and a logo that represents the wrong technology.
At the NFBA it is business as usual.