Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida/Tri-County News

SVTA: Special Meeting Called for Administrator's Pay Raise: "We'll Advertise It Right, Next Time"

COLUMBIA, HAMILTON, SUWANNEE COUNTIES – The Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) is the tri-county agency whose prime responsibility is providing transportation for those who by income, age, or disability are unable to transport themselves to doctors, jobs, and educational facilities or other life sustaining activities. Advertising its meetings, providing public records, and ethical issues have plagued the agency and its management for at least a decade. The state, through the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD), and indirectly through the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, oversees the agency.

On June 8, 2016, Suwannee County Commissioner, Larry Sessions, who is also the administrator of the tri-county SVTA, emailed a notice to the local media outlets announcing a "SPECIAL CALLED MEETING OF THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS, SVTA."

No reason for the meeting was stated.

The only other information about the meeting was: "The Administrator, SVTA, has announced that this SVTA Special Board of Directors meeting will be held June 20, 2016 at 6:30pm.  The location of this meeting will be at the SVTA Board Room, 1907 Voyles St, SW, Live Oak, Florida, 32064."

Commissioner Sessions added, "Please run this notice in the Suwannee Democrat, Mayo Free Press, Jasper News, The Lake City Reporter and the Columbia County Observer."

The Columbia County Observer appears to be the only media outlet to advertise tonight's meeting.l

Commissioner Sessions (right) and former Administrator Fortner confer at the June 15 LCB. The financially strapped SVTA had previously voted a bonus for her.

The State & Commissioner Sessions Ignore the AG

On June 8, after receiving the improper notice via email, your reporter notified the State Director of the Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged, Steve Holmes, and the Director of the North Central Florida Planning Council, Scott Koons (who has recently had his own challenges in complying with public notice requirements), others, and Commissioner Sessions.

The Observer included the Attorney General's Notice Guidelines:

• Notice should contain the time and place of the meeting and an agenda; if an agenda is not available, then a statement of general subject matters to be considered.

• Notice should be prominently displayed and posted on the agency website.

• Notice should be provided at least 7 days before the meeting. Special meetings should be noticed at least 24 hours prior, and emergency meetings should be noticed in the most appropriate and effective manner possible.

• On matters of critical public concern, advertising in the local newspaper of general circulation would be appropriate.

Commissioner Sessions and the State were reminded of the need to have a notice about ADA accessibility and the need to make a record.

Included in the communiqué was the following:

The purpose of the notice requirement is to apprise the public of the pendency of matters that might affect their rights, afford them the opportunity to appear and present their views, and afford them a reasonable time to make an appearance if they wish. Rhea v. City of Gainesville, 574 So. 2d 221, 222 (Fla. 1st. DCA 1991).

Meeting Purpose

The only purpose of the meeting is to discuss a pay raise for Suwannee County Commissioner Sessions, the Administrator of the SVTA.

Commissioner Sessions Weighs In

A search of Florida Public Notices came up empty for tonight's meeting.    ++ enlarge

On June 15, 2016, the North Central Florida Planning Council's Local Coordinating Board met. In attendance was John Irvine, the regional representative of the CTD. This meeting was twice improperly noticed, a fact that has so far been ignored by the CTD's Steve Holmes, and Scott Koons of the Planning Council.

At the conclusion of the June 15 meeting your reporter had a brief discussion with Commissioner Sessions. Your reporter once again pointed out the reasons that the upcoming SVTA meeting (the meeting scheduled for tonight) was improperly noticed.

Commissioner Sessions said, "We'll advertise it right, next time"


Other than the Columbia County Observer, none of the other local media outlets have advertised today's meeting. It cannot be found in Florida Public Notices.

Commissioner Sessions and the SVTA Board has repeatedly claimed that the agency is struggling for funds.

Commissioner Sessions's raise is something in which the public would be interested.

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