Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Tri County/Florida News

Suwannee Valley TA: In Disarray Since 2011, The SVTA Remains Severely Challenged

COLUMBIA-HAMILTON-SUWANNEE – The Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) is supposed to ensure the availability of efficient, cost-effective and quality transportation services for transportation disadvantaged persons, who because of income, age, or disability can't transport themselves. Since the mid 80s, the SVTA has been overseen by Columbia County's Ronald Williams and since 2011 the Authority has been spinning out of control.

The SVTA's top brass (overtime exempt employees in most of the civilized world) was accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal overtime and comp time and then cashing it out, while local vendors contracted by the SVTA were on the edge of bankruptcy and being screwed out of tens of thousands of dollars. Throughout it all, the Ronald Williams controlled SVTA Board did nothing.

At the same time, in 2012-13, the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD), the governing agency for the transportation for the disadvantaged in Florida, infused the SVTA with an additional $339,647 in additional transportation funds.

According to calculations by the state, during the same time period, in the state's words, "For those additional funds, SVTA provided 15,406 fewer trips."

Fringe Benefits up $726,149 in one year

The state also reported the following: An initial review of SVTA’s Fiscal Year 2012-13 expenses showed SVTA’s Fringe Benefits were 112% of Labor costs. This was by far the highest percent of any Community Transportation Coordinator (CTC, i.e., the SVTA) in the state.  Statewide, the figure was about 20%. The cost of Fringe Benefits was $165,915 in Fiscal Year 2011-12 and $892,064 in Fiscal Year 2012-13 – an increase of $726,149.

In April of this year, the management of the SVTA was forced to resign. Then after the letters of resignation were received, the dysfunctional SVTA Board, still under the leadership of Ronald Williams, looked on as Operations Manager William "Bill" Steele withdrew his resignation and Administrator Pra apparently resigned. A letter prepared by Administrator Pra stated, "I will depart the agency on April 30, 2014, with salary compensation from April 30 to September 30." While the minutes of the April 30 meeting might have shown what happened, they were not included in the next meeting's meeting material.

Meeting Notice: What's That?

On August 12, 2014, the SVTA Board met in a scheduled meeting. The Board couldn't finish the evening's business and rather than adjourn the meeting, which would have been proper, they "recessed" until August 18, a six day recess.

When 35 year veteran Columbia County Commissioner, Ronald Williams, asked for a motion for adjournment, Attorney Hal Airth told him it wasn’t necessary. “It’s not adjourned, it’s in recess.

On Monday, August 18, 2014, the Observer questioned the lack of any meeting notice for the evening's meeting. SVTA Board Attorney, Hal Airth, wrote in an email, "The meeting did not have to be noticed, "Tonight is a continuation of the properly noticed meeting which began last Tuesday. It is my opinion that no additional notice is required."

It was only under the threat of a law suit that the SVTA cancelled the meeting. No one knew, or was not talking, about who cancelled the meeting.

Impossible To Find SVTA Website

               Click here to enlarge

For three years the SVTA has come up with excuse after excuse why it cannot develop a website. Recently, they had developed something that is impossible to find.

Last week the Observer found it and was greeted by the image of the resigned Administrator, Gwen Pra.

It appeared that neither the SVTA Board, nor most of the SVTA, or the general public knew about this impossible to find website, which featured  on its home page, Gwendolyn Pra, the SVTA Administrator who resigned four months earlier.

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Related Links:

Columbia County 5 Bails Out Suwannee Valley TA After It Runs Out of Money - Again: Gives $50,000
(Posted December 18, 2014)

• 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
(Posted August 19, 2014)

Suwannee Valley TA: Dialysis Patients Riding On Saturday for Another Month
(Posted May 14, 2014)

FOILED – A Plan to Depose the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council and Replace it With the SVTA
(Posted May 1, 2014)

Suwannee Valley Transit Authority:
Here They Go Again - Good Government, What's That?

(Posted April 30, 2014)

• Administrator and Director of Operations Resign
(Posted April 24, 2014)

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
(Posted March 11, 2014)

Governing Bd Meets in Locked Building. Safety Issues Kept Under Lock and Key
(Posted November 6, 2013)

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
(Posted Sept 27, 2013)

• 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
SVTA management created a "hostile work environment?

(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?
(Posted March 02, 2012)

 • Suwannee Valley Transit Authority:
A train wreck working to get transportation for the disadvantaged back on track

(Posted January 31, 2011)