North Florida Broadband Authority: Bradford County Says "No Mas" – Pulls Out
Posted April 2, 2012 04:20 pm | Part XVII
Bradford County Commission Chairman, Ross Chandler, asks for a motion to remove Bradford County from the North Florida Broadband Authority.
BRADFORD COUNTY, FL – In 2009 the North Florida Broadband Authority was established with $30,000,000 of Obama Stimulus Money for the purpose of bringing internet service to the underserved rural areas of North Central Florida. In the summer of 2011, with the broadband project almost a year behind and with no customers, the Dept of Commerce shut down the project due to serious and rampant allegations of waste, fraud and abuse, and questions about the project's sustainability. With the project spiraling out of control, whistle blowers stepped forward. One of them was Bradford County's representative on the NFBA, IT expert Chris Thurow. Today at 9:45 am, after the written recommendation of Bradford County Attorney, Will Sexton, the Bradford County Commission voted unanimously to withdraw from the NFBA.
Bradford County Attorney, Will Sexton, was troubled by what he saw at the NFBA.
In a letter to the Bradford County Commission (the Commission), Mr. Sexton, who became Bradford County's NFBA representative after the illegal removal of Mr. Thurow by the NFBA for "not being a team player," told the Commission that he believed the NFBA had strayed from its "guiding principles."
Mr. Sexton told the Commission he had "concerns over the viability of NFBA.”
Mr. Sexton explained that the NFBA staff continued "to direct much of the activity of the NFBA without consultation from the entire NFBA Board or, at most, with the support of a generally complicit NFBA Board and/or chairman."
Mr. Sexton told the Commission about the recent ordering of the Board's legal counsel to stay away from meetings.
... a number of major actions were taken by the Board without legal advice or counsel (a fact never mentioned by Ms. Sucara), General Manager Sucara and Chairman Langford already had a replacement counsel selected, without any input from the board and without any competitive bidding. (Editor's note: This is against the federal grant procurement guidelines.)
Mr. Sexton told the Commission that he thought the NFBA was misusing the Federal Grant funds to expand the network, rather than provide "middle mile service."
Bradford County's IT expert, Chris Thurow, was thanked by the Bradford County Commission for his hard work on the NFBA.
Mr. Sexton was concerned about the $750,000 of NFBA debt with TD Bank. He didn't believe this debt served the best interest of Bradford County or its citizens. Mr. Sexton explained the NFBA debt to TD Bank this way:
"[It is] in the form of a maxed-out line of credit with TD Bank, which it currently cannot pay and for which there does not appear to be a certain plan or ability for repayment."
Mr. Sexton also mentioned that NFBA contracts are now being awarded without the benefit of competitive bidding and that it is unclear whether the project is sustainable for the long term, in spite of a staff "that continually states that all will be fine."
I cannot, as Bradford County's representative on the NFBA Board, recommend to you that such assurance is sufficient so as to warrant our continued belief that the project is now or ever can be a success.
Attorney Sexton – Recommends Protecting the Citizens of Bradford County
The federal grant requires that over $9 million in matching assets, pledged by NFBA member governments like Bradford County, actually be utilized by NFBA. In the event that they are not, the member governments may be liable for a portion of the $9 million in the form of a cash payment. Based upon the information I have seen, and the repeated threats by NFBA staff, it is questionable in my mind that NFBA will be able to meet that requirement and the potential liability created by that scenario concerns me.
Advancing the Principles of Bradford County and Its Citizens
Mr. Sexton advised that he gave the situation serious thought and consideration:
I do not believe there to be any other way to advance the principles in which this county and our citizens believe and to protect this county from the ongoing liabilities associated with continued participation in the NFBA. Simply put, the NFBA is moving in a direction far different than that for which it was originally designed and far different that for which Bradford County initially signed-on.
Bradford County Commission Acts
County Manager Brad Carter was on top of the NFBA situation.
The Bradford County Manager, Brad Carter, has kept the County Commission appraised of the NFBA situation for some time. Mr. Sexton's letter to the County Manager and the Commission was dated March 20th. It gave the Commission plenty of time to consider the facts. Mr. Sexton recommended Bradford County withdraw from the NFBA.
Before the vote, Commission Chair Ross Chandler said, "I think it is in the best interest that we do this."
Commissioner Doyle Thomas said, "I'd like to thank Mr. Thurow for his early input and advice. He's seen things coming down the road and I'd like him to know that I appreciate his work on this."
Commissioner Eddie Lewis referring to Attorney Sexton, It Director Thurow and County Manager Carter, said, "We sure thank you all for keeping us out of that spot."
One minute and forty nine seconds after Bradford County Attorney Will Sexton began addressing the Bradford County Commission, the Commission unanimously voted to withdraw from the NFBA.