North Florida Broadband Authority: Columbia County Pulls Out of Obama Funded Stimulus Project
Posted November 2, 2012 06:30 am | Part XXVII
COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night, Columbia County made its voice heard throughout North Central Florida to Washington, DC, to the West Coast and all points in between, when it approved a resolution by Vice Chair Stephen Bailey to withdraw from the troubled Obama Stimulus Funded North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA). As the Commissioners voiced disappointment that the promise of the NFBA was not met and the unserved and underserved of North Central Florida and Columbia County would not have high-speed Internet, the NFBA brass sat silent in the audience.
This is a tragedy of wasted money
that could have gone to a good cause, and the only thing
I can see is mismanagement.
Commissioner Rusty DePratter
As the meeting got underway, County Commission candidate Mike Gordon came to the microphone and voiced support for Commissioner Bailey's upcoming resolution to withdraw from the North Florida Broadband Authority. Mr. Gordon echoed the sentiment of all County Commission candidates, candidates with whom the Observer had spoken, when he told the Commission, "The goal posts keep getting moved. The Federal programs offer a lot on promises and are short on delivery. I hope you'll do as many other government agencies have done – say that we can do better. I hope you take definitive action."
Commissioner Stephen Bailey: He laid it out; asked for support; put his reputation on the line
Vice Chair Stephen Bailey listens as other commissioners give their opinions of his resolution to withdraw from the NFBA.
Commissioner Bailey began by giving a brief rundown of the history of Columbia County's involvement with the NFBA. He explained that the purpose of the grant was to bring broadband Internet service into the unserved and underserved areas of rural North Central Florida. Commissioner Bailey said [in 2009] many areas in Columbia County and rural North Central Florida had areas where only dial-up service was available. Commissioner Bailey said that he understood that if the grant were secured, "We would not be competing with the private sector that was selling Internet service. The grant was to help get service into the rural areas."
Commissioner Bailey explained that after the allegations of wrong doing against the NFBA, he and others tried to get explanations regarding the charges. Commissioner Bailey said, "They tell us they're not true, but they are unwilling to provide us with any data."
Commissioner Bailey explained that with the exception of the NFBA's attorney's billing records [Jennifer Springfield], Columbia County has not received any of the information that it has requested from the NFBA through a recent public records request.
Commissioner Bailey asked for the support of the Board for a resolution that he had prepared withdrawing Columbia County from the NFBA.
He said the NFBA had not provided an operational plan showing how it was going to serve the rural areas, nor did it provide the information showing how it would be financially solvent at the conclusion of the grant period [January 31, 2013].
He told the board, "I cannot understand why we cannot get that information. I feel that it is in our best interest to withdraw from the Broadband Authority."
The Commissioners Weigh In
Long time Com Williams shows his disappointment in the failure of the NFBA.
Longtime Commissioner Ronald Williams told the Board that he was disappointed that the stimulus money did not go to improve Internet service in rural areas of the County, but instead went into areas like Lake City where high-speed Internet already exists.
"It is also troubling to me that so many other municipalities have withdrawn their support for this organization [NFBA]... We ask for things, but we get no answers. I don't want to be part of a partnership where the people don't answer my questions. I'm dumbfounded. Where does that leave rural Columbia County?" he asked.
A thoughtful Com DuPree listens to the debate before weighing in.
Commissioner Jody DuPree said he thought that the original plan from 2009 would have addressed Commissioner Williams' issues and would have been the solution, "using taxpayer dollars."
Commissioner DuPree said, "It appears that the emphasis is now to go into the areas where the customers are; we're going to compete with the private sector and then once that we develop that, we can expand into the rural areas to meet the concern that was addressed in the beginning."
"The trouble with that is we now have the government competing with the private sector... That is not a good place to be," he said.
Commissioner Bailey added, "The original grant said they would be completed by 2012. On October 4th, they stood here and told us the network was not complete."
Com DePratter spoke for all the municipalities that have withdrawn from the project when he spoke of the tragedy of wasted money.
Commissioner Rusty DePratter entered the conversation. "My biggest problem is we asked them for information and we didn't get it. I just don't see how, that when the grant money runs out, they are going to be able to pay their bills. They didn't show us any way. Where is that money going to come from unless it comes from more government grants that we don't know anything about?"
Commissioner Williams, "I'm disappointed and I'm upset."
Commissioner DePratter, "I hope everybody feels this way. I feel like this is a tragedy of wasted money that could have gone to a good cause, and the only thing I can see is mismanagement."
Commissioner Bailey, "No doubt about it."
Chairwoman Frisina called the question.
Columbia County unanimously withdrew from the North Florida Broadband Authority.
Columbia County, the Gateway to Florida and the what many feel is the lynch pin of the NFBA, stood by as long as it could observing the mismanagement of the NFBA; the mismanagement of the federal stimulus money; the outrageous salaries of the federally funded organization; and hiring, procurement, Sunshine and public records practices which other municipalities had recognized as defective sometime before.
Columbia County bent over backwards and looked the other way until it could look no more.
Commissioner Stephen Bailey put his reputation on the line in moving for the withdrawal of the County from the NFBA. Columbia County's Board stepped up to the plate.
The failing NFBA is still under investigation by the Federal Government.
This story is not over yet.