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Tri County/Florida News

Suwannee Valley TA Moves Into 21st Century Commissioner Nash Says, "No Mas" to Secrecy

Suwannee County Com. Gamble seconds the motion

SVTA Executive Director, Gwen Pra, explains why the SVTA has no web site as Chairman Ronald Williams sits by.

SUWANNEE COUNTY, FL – Last night the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Board, chaired for as long as anyone can remember by Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams, met at SVTA headquarters. Having received the stamp of approval from Chairman Williams, the SVTA continued to maintain a level of secrecy that has given the agency, along with the Lake Shore Hospital Authority, a reputation as one of the two most secretive public agencies in Florida. Agendas and supporting material had been available only to board members. Electronic delivery of documents had still not been discovered by the SVTA's administrator, Gwendolyn Pra, a career bureaucrat who came from FDOT. Last night, Columbia County businessman and County Commissioner Bucky Nash said, "no mas", and moved that SVTA meeting notices and agenda information be available to anyone who asked for it.

The Discussion Began With Commissioner Nash In January

Last night, Commissioner Nash was not satisfied with broken promises.

At the January SVTA Board meeting, Commissioner Nash complained that he would not have known of the evening's Board meeting had your reporter not notified him.

Executive Director Pra said the failure to notify him was because, "We had some failure to communicate."

Commissioner Nash was also not happy that he did not have the meeting material to review before the meeting. He said, "In the future I am going to be notified by email."

He was told that he would be.

Mr. Steele's employment application is here. It was only provided after a court order.

SVTA Operations Manager, Bill Steele, who came to the SVTA without any documented transportation experience, (), explained that he came to each board member with a packet of Board material, two weeks in advance.

It is difficult to understand how Operations Manager Steele, who has accumulated thousands of hours of comp time, has the time to drive around to three counties personally delivering agenda material.

Commissioner Nash had previously asked that the information be emailed to him.

Director Pra told Commissioner Nash, "We will send it (the packet) to you in email so that you can review it."

The SVTA never did.

When Com. Nash brought up that he had asked that the Columbia County Observer be notified of the meetings, Director Pra mentioned that "a commissioner" thought that sending notices and agenda material would not be in compliance with Florida's Sunshine Law. She did not name the commissioner. No one asked who it was.

SVTA Board Chairman Williams opined that only "legal newspapers" should be notified and that the SVTA complied with the statute.

Chairman Williams said it would be up to the Board to determine who, other than the three newspapers, gets notified.

Last night, Suwannee County Commissioner, Ricky Gamble (foreground), seconded Com. Nash's motion to move the SVTA into the 21 Century

Suwannee County Commissioner and SVTA Board member, Ricky Gamble, said he had no problem notifying people by email who want to be notified. He said that Suwannee County emails agenda packets to anyone who requests them. "It's not a burden on anything. I'm behind it."

The Solution: Ex. Dir. Pra, "A Web Site Is On the Way"

Ex. Dir. Pro told the Board, "We're gonna have a web site. We're working on that now. We are gonna post it on the web site just like the county does."

It was agreed that the item would be put on the agenda for the next meeting.

Chairman Williams instructed Ex. Dir. Pra, "Come up with a concrete plan on the web site, so that anybody can go to the web site."

Commissioner Nash told the Board, "It's simpler to just put it out there."

Chairman Williams said, "We want to agenda this as an item."

Last Night At the SVTA

Last night any mention of an SVTA web site was absent from the agenda.

Your reporter asked the Board, "I saw that the SVTA has about $200,000 in the bank. Why is it that the SVTA has no web site? It costs about 12 dollars a month... I kept hearing that you would do that."

When Ms. Pra answered she said she wasn't clear about the question. Chairman Williams explained, "He asked why we didn't have a web site."

Ms. Pra said, "We don't have one because we haven't gotten to it, but we are working on it." She also wanted to know where the $200,000 figure came from.

Your reporter responded that he recalled seeing that the SVTA had a $200,000 fund balance at the close out of last year. Do you guys have money in the bank, or you just don't do a web site because you can't afford one?"

Ms. Pra responded, "We are working on a web site. We are working on a web site. We're putting that together. It's in progress."

Your reporter, "I don't mean to be contentious, but I've heard that for about a year. Do you expect to have it done soon?"

Chairman Williams, "They'll get it done just as soon as we can get through this month."

Ms. Pra added, "If we put a lot of information on the web site it's all going to change on May 1st."

Meeting Notification: It was about to change

Operations Director Steele took over for Executive Director Pra.

Operations Manager Bill Steele makes his case for SVTA minimum standards.

He parroted Chairman Williams from the January meeting telling the Board, "Right now Suwannee Valley follows the state statute... We send it (notices) out to legitimate news outlets... We recommend that the board keeps that policy. The last thing any government agency wants to do is provide special treatment... I don't think we need to exceed the standard."

Commissioner Nash said, "I want an email to be sent to the commissioners. I haven't received an email about this (this meeting)."

Anyone who would like to receive email notifications and agenda material of SVTA meetings should contact Bill Steele at: bill.steele@RideSVTA.com

Com. Nash added that because there is no SVTA web site he wanted anyone who wants to be included on the list be included and that all agenda material be provided in that email. "I put that in the form of a motion," he said.

Com. Gamble followed up, "I'm an advocate for it. I believe you send it out in an email and like I said at the last meeting, I have no problem putting anybody on the list. I believe the state statutes are the minimum standards and it doesn't hurt us to go above them. I second the motion."

Commissioner Nash's motion passed unanimously.

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

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