Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

Florida/Tri-County News

Suwannee Valley TA Pays $257,318 in Exempt OT
DOT OIG Wants an Explanation

Posted December 29, 2014  06:40 am

COLUMBIA - HAMILTON - SUWANNEE COUNTY, FL – Last Monday, December 22, the State Attorney empanelled a grand jury to hear matters concerning the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority. Ten days before, on December 12, 2014, the Florida DOT, Office of Inspector General (OIG) released its long awaited Advisory Report on the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA).

The OIG investigated "unallowed payouts" to the SVTA Administrator, Gwen Pra, and Operations Director, William "Bill" Steele, for the period between June 2012 and March 2014." The OIG did not begin its investigation in 2011 when Administrator Pra and Operations Director Steele were hired and the payouts began. The reason is not clear. Had it done so, the OIG's grand total of compensation in addition to salary would have been $257,318.

The OIG Report found a lot more wrong than just the alleged illegal payouts. The SVTA has been chaired by Columbia County Commissioner, Ronald Williams, for about 30 years.

What the OIG found: $257,318 plus

The SVTA’s chart of accounts and General Ledger were not maintained in accordance with accounting principles contained in or referenced by the contract terms and conditions
The SVTA failed to properly manage administrative personnel timesheets, leave, overtime, and compensatory time resulting in inaccurate labor and fringe benefit reporting, unsupported accruals of leave, and unallowed leave payments.
The SVTA Administrator employed practices, without obtaining Board authorization, which resulted in her personal benefit and the benefit of the Director of Operations. The Administrator and Director of Operations received $192,813 ($125,036 and $67,777 respectively) in unallowed payouts beyond their salaries between June 2012 and March 2014. The Administrator and Director of Operations received compensation in addition to salary outside the review period totaling $64,505 (Administrator $33,796, Director of Operations $30,709). The supportability of these payments outside the review period was not tested.

Personnel Rules & Regulations

The SVTA had been operating with Personnel Rules & Regulations (PRR's) developed by the North Central Florida Planning Council in 1981.

The SVTA management and Board claimed it approved new PRR's in 2012. These purported new PRR's awarded management employees comp time. The PRR cover page said the rules were adopted by resolution. The SVTA was not able to produce the resolution. There is also a claim that there was a verbal approval of paying comp time to the Administrator sometime after she was hired, but before the purported 2012 rules were claimed to have been adopted. This verbal approval was not found in SVTA minutes.

The Minutes: "You just can't make it up"

Auditor Richard Powell hands a copy of the audit to Commissioner Robert Brown of Hamilton County.

A recent article by Columbia County's local newspaper, the Lake City Reporter, gave a bizarre rendition of the adoption of the PRR's and the minutes supporting them.

A look at the facts simplifies a very convoluted tale.

On March 16, 2012, the SVTA Board met. There is nothing in the minutes which references the Personnel Rules & Regulations. However, the Board did approve various policies and procedures that evening, ranging from IT and computer policies to safety. There was no mention when any other rules would again be coming up.

The next SVTA meeting occurred three months later on June 25, 2012. The Board approved changes to the dress code and safety shoe policy.

The Personnel Rules & Regulations were left unchanged, as reflected in the minutes, or were they? The minutes, obtained by the Observer, state in relevant part [as written]:

Policy and Procedures were omitted to Board July 14, 2012 in error and Mrs. Pra requested approval to include this information. Commissioner Frisina made motion to accept Policy and Procedures, Commissioner Fleming made a second and the Board approved the motion. (minutes were prepared and signed by Shirley Cribbs, who is the sister of the present interim SVTA Administrator, Teresa Fortner)

At the next SVTA Board meeting, September 24, 2012, the June 25 minutes were unanimously approved without comment.

It was not clear who on the planet earth knew what policy and procedures were approved during the June 25 SVTA Board meeting.

On March 10, 2014, the issue of comp time came up again. SVTA Board Chairman, Ronald Williams, explained the reason that the SVTA's exempt employees received comp time:

When Suwannee Valley Transit was going through cryin' time this board - this board authorized them to work as many hours as possible to bring Suwannee Valley transit where you heard commissioners speak on the confidence that he have in Suwannee Valley transit now. So we done that. They've done a great job doin' that, so the comp time ceases.

Chairman Williams mentioned nothing about any previous policy changes allowing comp time for exempt employees.


The SVTA former auditors, Moore & Company, didn't want to work for free, which was part of the reason for the late delivery of the disastrous 2011 audit. It is not clear why this reputable firm was not invited back to do the 2012 audit, although their honesty, thoroughness, and frankness may have been a problem for the SVTA Board.

The SVTA hired Columbia County's External Auditor – Budget Advisor – Financial Advisor, Richard Powell, for the 2012 audit. Yes, he does all three things for the County, as well as the infamous Lake Shore Hospital Authority.

It is not clear how Auditor Powell didn't know that management employees weren't eligible for the kind of comp and overtime that the SVTA was paying its management employees. (see Report beginning on page 14)

The SVTA Board members for Columbia, Hamilton, and Suwannee Counties approved every penny of overtime and comp time for the SVTA's Pra and Steele at every opportunity it had to deny it, as well as other employees who also appear to be exempt employees.

The Grand Jury has met.

A confidential source told the Observer that the Feds are also investigating.

Stay tuned.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

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


Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.

Related Links:

SVTA Board Should Bring Back the Team That Brought it Back from the Brink of Bankruptcy
(Posted December 26, 2014)

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)