Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida/Tri-County News

SVTA Administrator/Commissioner Larry Sessions Ignoring the Law Is Nothing New At the SVTA 

Former Interim SVTA Administrator Teresa Fortner's daughter runs the SVTA website.


Since 2015, Suwannee County County Commissioner, Larry Sessions, has been the administrator of the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA), the tri-county provider of Transportation for the Disadvantaged. The latest insult to good government and the law was Commissioner Sessions's almost 12th hour czar-like rescheduling of a meeting after the SVTA Board moved unanimously to have its quarterly meetings on the "second Tuesday of the month." Commissioner Sessions has ignored two public record requests for information regarding the details of the rescheduling of the November 7 meeting.

Background: The Florida Ethics Commission?

The SVTA has had a checkered past, which includes violating of the public records law, holding public meetings with questionable notice, investigations, grand juries, questionable accounting, forcing a contractor into bankruptcy (with the help of the DOT's Commission for the Transportation Disadvantaged (CTD)), failed bus routes in both Live Oak and to FGC, and finally, Commissioner Sessions's claim on April 20, 2015, that he "sought legal counsel from the Florida Ethics Commission and that they had no problems with him performing both duties." (SVTA minutes)

During a meeting of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, Commissioner Sessions, who was advised by the SVTA attorney not to discuss SVTA business in his capacity as a Suwannee County Commissioner, told the Planning Council that he met a member of the Florida Ethics Commission during a conference, pulled her aside, and she gave him an opinion.

Most recently, the SVTA and Commissioner Sessions have completely disregarded the legislation regarding the internet and the required information to be made available to the public.

The former Interim Administrator's daughter is running the SVTA website, which appears to be more of a travel site than that of an agency that is almost totally supported by Federal and State tax dollars.

Commissioner Sessions's Contract
"He is to get what everyone else gets"

Commissioner Sessions (right) and former Administrator Fortner. At first, she couldn't find her boss's contract. (file)

Earlier this year, during a helter-skelter SVTA meeting, a draft of Commissioner Sessions's contract was presented to the SVTA Board by former Interim Administrator Teresa Fortner.

After your reporter pointed out that wasn't the final contract, it was claimed it was the only one that could be found.

At the next meeting, Mr. Sessions's real contract appeared. None of the Board members asked where the SVTA found Mr. Sessions's contract.

Various SVTA Board members testified about conversations that were clearly unsupported by the SVTA approved minutes.

SVTA Administrator/Suwannee County Commissioner Sessions was given a retroactive $10,000 raise, moving him from $70,000 to $80,000 a year.

Commissioner Sessions's contract regarding raises was clear and unequivocal: "The annual base salary will be automatically adjusted each year to include any raises granted across the board to other SVTA employees." Period.

The SVTA Set Its Meeting Schedule
Columbia County's Sylvester "Bucky" Nash Made the Motion

Commissioner Nash     (file)

During the August 11, 2015, SVTA Board Meeting, Columbia County County Commissioner Sylvester "Bucky" Nash moved that SVTA meetings were to begin quarterly... as long as it was the second Tuesday of the month. Hamilton County Commissioner Beth Burnam seconded the motion. The August 11 meeting minutes state: "the motion for SVTA quarterly meetings (with the next meeting to be November 10, 2015) carried unanimously (5-0)."

That was the last time the re-scheduling of SVTA meetings was discussed publically by the SVTA Board, the only ones that can change the scheduled meeting times.

Last week your reporter filed public record requests with both Commissioner Sessions at the SVTA and Commissioner Nash in Columbia County for, among other things, all records regarding the cancellation and rescheduling of the November 7, 2016 meeting.

The SVTA's Commissioner Sessions has ignored the requests.

His only comment was via email, "We changed the meeting to better serve the interest of SVTA.  Have a nice day, Larry."

Subsequently, your reporter asked Commissioner Sessions who the "we" was. There was no reply.

Columbia County's Commissioner Nash blew off the request, constructively denying it.

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