Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Tri County/Florida News

Suwannee Valley Transit Authority
Administrator and Director of Operations Resign

SVTA Chair, Columbia County Com. Ronald Williams. It is not clear how much he knows.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – For the last two and a half years the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) Board Chairman, Ronald Williams, the SVTA Administrator, Gwen Pra, and Director of Operations, William H. Steele, claimed that the SVTA was running like a well oiled machine and they were the great saviors who brought the SVTA back from the brink of extinction.  Any employee who disagreed with the company line and knew the real truth about the $2,000,000 of debt overseen by Chairman Williams was fired or demoted. Non employees who disagreed were vilified, libeled, slandered, and/or stalked. While this was going on, Chairman Ronald Williams and the rest of the SVTA Board sat back and did nothing.

Early yesterday afternoon, April 23, Columbia County Commissioner Ronald Williams, "Chairman Williams," sent a memo to the SVTA board members in Hamilton and Suwannee Counties advising them of a special meeting scheduled at SVTA Hdq. at 6 pm on April 29. The resignations of Administrator Pra and Dir. of Operations Steele are the items on the agenda. (The package of material sent by Com. Williams is here. It has been reprocessed to reduce file size)

Mr. Steele's resignation letter, dated April 21, stated his resignation is effective April 25. The Observer received an email from Mr. Steele yesterday afternoon stating that he would be out of the office until further notice.

Another Commissioner Ronald Williams backroom deal

On Feb. 27th, Ms. Pra (left) and Teresa Fortner sat for 3 hours at a Columbia County Budget Work Shop where the SVTA was not on the agenda. Ms. Pra, without any authority, has appointed Ms. Fortner to be the interim Administrator of the SVTA.

According to records and statements obtained from the SVTA, Administrator Pra has no resume, no job application, and no employment contract. There is a "Memorandum" dated July 27, 2011, signed by Chairman Williams and Ms. Pra.

Administrator Pra has apparently worked out a "backroom deal" with Chairman Williams.

Ms. Pra's resignation letter is dated April 21, 2014. It states her resignation is "effective September 30, 2014." She then goes on to say, "As we discussed today, I will depart the agency on April 30, 2014, with salary compensation from April 30 to September 30." This is five months later.

It is not clear if Ms. Pra's resignation is in "good standing," or was forced by the lack of any background check on Bill Steele, also known as William H. Steele.

More information can be found on Mr. Steele: here (read the comments for thoughts on both sides); here (read the charges); and here. The Los Angeles Times has many articles regarding the case against Bill Steele. Google "la times william h steele". You can begin here.

It is not clear if Columbia County's Chairman Williams knew about the background of Bill Steele. Ms. Pra has reportedly known Mr. Steele for over 20 years. While working at the SVTA they reportedly shared the same house (he was a guest). It is not clear if Ms. Pra did a background check on Mr. Steele. It is also not clear if Chairman Williams ordered background checks on either one of them before they were hired. It is clear that employment applications for both Pra and Steele were either never done, or have gone missing. Ms. Pra's resume has disappeared.

It has been reported that Chairman Williams spent much time at the SVTA in Live Oak.

The resignations

Last month, Commissioner Nash was not satisfied with broken SVTA promises.

Were Ms. Pra's and Mr. Steele's resignations in good standing according to the SVTA's policy manual? The policy manual states that in order to receive payment for unused sick leave the resignation must be "in good standing with a minimum of 10 years active service." Both Ms. Pra and Mr. Steele have requested a payout of hundreds of hours of their accrued sick time. Neither one has worked three years.

Did Tallahassee demand the resignations of Ms. Pra and Mr. Steele under threat of cancelling the SVTA contract with the state?

How much did Chairman Williams know about the wrong-doing at the SVTA? How much did he share with the SVTA Board?

Suwannee County Commissioner, Ricky Gamble (foreground), may be a key for accountability at the SVTA.

According to former long time employee Pete Lucas, Dir. of Operations Steele threatened to fire "Driver Jimmy" after he was involved in an accident which was not his fault, if he, Driver Jimmy, filed for workman's comp.

The Observer asked Mr. Lucas, "How do you know that is what Steele said?"

Mr. Lucas replied, "I was standing right there. I heard him say it."

According to Mr. Lucas, the SVTA filed a fraudulent claim with FEMA after Tropical Storm Debbie. Mr. Lucas said, "They (Pra and Steele) took one of the big buses to check out their personal house. They got stuck on a flooded road. The bus was damaged and had to be towed." According to Mr. Lucas, "They told FEMA they were using the bus for people who were in need of rescuing."

Mr. Lucas was the SVTA Director of Maintenance at the time. He also claims that the SVTA put in another FEMA claim for a transmission, claiming it was damaged in the storm."

The Observer asked, "Was it?"

Mr. Lucas replied, "No."

Mr. Lucas also claimed that the SVTA charged FEMA for overtime for employees who could not make it to work.

The Observer asked, "Are you saying that employees didn't come to work and that the SVTA charged FEMA for those employees overtime?"

Mr. Lucas responded, "For their time, yes."

The Observer, "And they didn't come to work?"

Mr. Lucas, "Nope. Several employees called in and said they couldn't get out."

The Observer, "So how do you know they put this into FEMA?"

Mr. Lucas, "Because I was there when Gwen Pra and Bill Steele had the conversation."

The Observer, "Were other people there?"

Mr. Lucas, "Yes, I think it was at an administration meeting on a Monday... There were things that I tried. Bill caught wind that I was copying things on the fly from the administration meeting. I was told, 'What happens inside these doors, stays inside these doors.'"


It is time that the State Attorney investigates the goings on at the SVTA.

Mr. Lucas's charges are only the tip of the iceberg.

The recent audits make no mention of the comp time cashed out by Ms. Pra. The policy manual in effect prior to March 15, 2012 did not allow for overtime for exempted employees except for holiday work. Ms. Pra and Mr. Steele both apparently received overtime/compensatory time cash payments.

It is clear that the Columbia, Hamilton, and Suwannee County Commissions are the ones responsible for the SVTA mess. Ronald Williams has been the Commissioner in Charge of the SVTA Board for as long as anyone can remember.

It is becoming clearer why for years Commissioner Williams never wanted to talk about the past of the SVTA. 

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