Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Tri County/Florida News

Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA):

In 2014 it is estimated that 40% of the tri county SVTA population will be eligible for Transportation for the Disadvantaged.

Local Transportation Disadvantaged board chair Bucky Nash. He gives everyone the chance to participate and he listens.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The July 26, 2013 meeting of the Local Transportation Disadvantaged Board of North Central Florida navigated choppy waters under the leadership of Columbia County's Bucky Nash. Chairman Nash listened to everyone and steadied a sometimes rocky and contentious ship. Chairman Nash made the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority management issues secondary to the purpose of the program: seeing that the people who need transportation services are receiving them.

Who are the transportation disadvantaged?

The transportation disadvantaged are defined in the FL statues as "... those persons who because of physical or mental disability, income status, or age are unable to transport themselves or to purchase transportation and are, therefore, dependent upon others to obtain access to health care, employment, education, shopping, social activities or other life-sustaining activities, or children who are handicapped or high-risk or at risk as defined in s. 411.202."

The North Central Florida Regional Planning Council's statistics can be found here.

The 2010 estimate of the combined population of Columbia, Hamilton, and Suwannee Counties is 123,881.

The estimates for those who will be eligible to take advantage of the Transportation for the Disadvantaged in 2014 in the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority's (SVTA) tri county service area is 50,426, or 40% of the total population of the three counties.

SVTA Senior Management Comp Time Questioned: Suwannee County Commissioner Bashaw calls question a "personal attack"

SVTA's Director of Operations, Bill Steele told the board, "We spent a heck of a lot of time to make sure our budget is absolutely right because I too am a tax payer. We are very cognizant of the taxpayer's money.

Board member and advocate, Ralph Kitchens

Board member Ralph Kitchens asked, "Well then, how did you accrue 1700 hrs. of comp time?"

Administrator Pra told the gathering, "That's not under the purview of this board."

Board member and Suwannee County Commissioner Bashaw said, "That's not under the purview of this board. It's a personal attack. Personal attacks are unwarranted."

Mr. Kitchens withdrew his question.

In an interview after the meeting the Observer asked board member Kitchens why he withdrew his question.

Mr. Kitchens told the Observer, "I wasn't really sure, so rather than carry on with a contentious issue I withdrew my question."

In May 2013, AHCA's Alana McKay wrote a blistering memo regarding the failures of the SVTA and its management.

Mr. Kitchens continued, "The SVTA's Director of Operations, Mr. Steele, is management and he should not be accumulating comp time. I feel that this is a matter that needs investigation."

The SVTA management team was hired by the SVTA board, which is composed of two county commissioners from each member county. Those commissioners, under the leadership of long time Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams approved the policy which has allowed the management team of Pra and Steele to accumulate over 3000 hours of comp time in less than two years.

It is unknown if any other members of the SVTA management team have also been accumulating comp time.

According to the 2013/14 rate model work sheets provided by the SVTA approximately 79% of its revenue comes directly from federal and state funds. The more money that is spent on items like comp time, the less money is available to transport those who qualify for the services.

The qualifications of the SVTA management team

On the evening of July 24th, two days before the TD meeting, board member Kitchens sent an email to the Planning Council asking that Mr. Steele and Ms. Pra's qualifications be brought to the Friday meeting.

The topic never came up.

After the meeting your reporter spoke with the long time Executive Director of the NCFRPC, Scott Koons. The Observer asked, "Mr. Koons, would you hire someone without knowing their qualifications and in your experience have you ever seen a job application such as Bill Steele's application at the SVTA?"

Mr. Koons responded, "No and no, I have not."

Riders Guide

Ms. Pra backed off charging $4 dollars for a 6 cent guide.

Florida Medicaid, a division of the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) discussed the need for a Rider's Guide in September of 2011, a month after Ms. Pra took over the reins of the SVTA.

At the time Ms. Pra was hired there was no single source explaining the rights and responsibilities of the riders or the SVTA, nor were the reservation or complaint phone numbers easily accessible.

It took the management of the SVTA 20 months to produce the one-page/double-sided Rider's Guide, which left off the toll free reservation number.

SVTA clients had to sign for the one page guide and were not given a copy of what they signed. The clients agreed to pay $4 to replace the guide if they wanted another copy or lost it. The cost to the SVTA was 6 cents.

Many of the folks who ride the SVTA have a problem making the $1 co-pay that they must pay in order to ride.

At the meeting, Ms. Pra back peddled and said, "If they lose it, we'll give them another one."

Chairman Nash said we are not going to try and make money off of that.

Director of Operations Steele said, "We are not trying to make money, but remember, we've got to cut costs."

The SVTA rate increase: two in one month

One of the board members asked, "When was the last rate increase?"

Chief Administrator Pra answered, "We've never had a rate increase." 


Many feel if Matt Pearson was running the SVTA, not only wouldn't there be chaos, but the region would have a chance of creating a regional public transportation system.

Board member Matt Pearson, the transportation professional in charge of the TD and Medicaid transportation in Bradford, Dixie, Gilchrist, and Lafayette counties told the SVTA. "What's happened in the last couple of years is why you exceeded your Medicaid allocation. You've moved Medicaid riders into the Transportation Disadvantaged Trust Fund... If you continue what you're doing, hardly anybody that's not Medicaid eligible will be able to use these services."

Both Ms. Pra and Mr. Steele disagreed.

Mr. Pearson concluded his remarks, "I'm not telling you how to run your business. I'm just trying to make sure that the lower-income families have an opportunity to use those services."

Chairman Nash told the board, "Everything is chaotic as you can see."

The grievance committee: the SVTA attorney speaks against the "malcontents"

Director of Operations Steele explained to Chairman Nash that he had only recently read the grievance procedures, "This is probably the most complicated document... man -- this was an unbelievable document... I think the common man would have a difficult time understanding this process."

It is the Chairman's responsibility to appoint the grievance committee members.

SVTA attorney Hal Airth

As Chairman Nash announced his appointments, the SVTA attorney Hal Airth asked for the floor:

 I would like to make a statement on behalf of Suwannee Valley (SVTA). We would request that Ms. McKay [ACHA representative] not be on the grievance committee; that Mr. Johnson [rider representative] not be on the committee; Mr. Kitchens [disabled representative] not be on the committee. I think it's obvious from the comments today that they are hostile toward the administration of Suwannee Valley Transit Authority. Members of the grievance committee need to be fair and open-minded.

Chairman Nash, "You recommendations are noted. It does not change my nominees."

There has been talk that Matt Pearson was also on the dissident list.

Chairman Nash appointed Ms. McKay of ACHA, Mr. Pearson of the Suwannee River Economic Council, Mr. Kitchens representing the persons with disabilities, Ms. Collins of DOT, and David Rountree, alternate of the Florida Dept. of Elder Affairs.


After the meeting the Observer concluded his conversation with the Planning Council's Scott Koons.

The Observer asked, "At what point as the planning council do you step in and make a recommendation to the state that "'those folks have to go?'" Labeling various folks as malcontents; failing to comply with the public records laws; management accumulating thousands of hours of comp time; and charging their clients, the transportation disadvantaged, $4 for a replacement one page riders guide which explains their rights. The cost to the SVTA -- 6 cents."

Mr. Koons answered, "At the point when it disrupts the service to the customers."

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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Related Links:

• I Had The Displeasure of Having To Ride SVTA
(Posted August 27, 2014)

Former Suwannee Valley TA Operations Director: Team SVTA Accomplished Its Mission
(Posted August 25, 2014)

Suwannee Valley TA: In Disarray Since 2011, The SVTA Remains Severely Challenged
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Suwannee Valley TA: Dialysis Patients Riding On Saturday for Another Month
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FOILED – A Plan to Depose the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and Replace it With the SVTA
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Suwannee Valley Transit Authority:
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(Posted April 30, 2014)

• Administrator and Director of Operations Resign
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Suwannee Valley TA Under Microscope: OIG (Office of the Inspector General) Called In To Investigate
(Posted March 13, 2014)

Transit Authority Moves Into 21st Century Commissioner Nash Says, "No Mas" to Secrecy
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Governing Bd Meets in Locked Building. Safety Issues Kept Under Lock and Key
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Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Grievance Committee: Other Complaints & Retaliation (Posted Sept 30, 2013)  (Part II)

Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Grievance Committee Meets: Complaints Upheld - Rider's Representative Retaliated Against
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• In 2014 it is estimated that 40% of the tri county SVTA population will be eligible for Transportation for the Disadvantaged.
(Posted July 31, 2013)

Operations Manager Gets 13% Pay Raise
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(Posted July 11, 2013)

Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA): Florida's Sunshine Laws - What's that?
(Posted April 23, 2012)

 • Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) Train Wreck Continues: Accounting still questionable - Vendors still not being paid
(Posted March 27, 2012)

Dist V Com Scarlet Frasina Breaks Tie: Puts residents on hook for $300,000 loan to Suwannee Valley Transit Authority. Collateral – what's that?
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 • Suwannee Valley Transit Authority:
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(Posted January 31, 2011)