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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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NCFRPC Chair Rick Davis Nixes Rubber Stamp Approval of Exec Dir's Recommended Appointment


NCFRPC Chairman Rick Davis (left); Planning Council Executive Director Scott Koons (right)

LAKE CITY, FL – Thursday night, the main event at the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council (NCFRPC) occurred during the 6 pm Executive Committee meeting. After a Columbia County resident appeared before the Committee and expressed an interest in applying for an unadvertised position on a local transportation disadvantaged board, Chairman Davis recommended the item be pulled off the consent agenda and the position be advertised. The Executive Committee unanimously backed Mr. Davis and sent Director Koons back to the drawing board.

Background

For years, the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council has used the Local Coordinating Board(s) of the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA) as a revenue source to help fill its overflowing coffers.

Between 2009 and 2015, under the watchful eye of DOT's Sandra Collins, Scott Koons and the NCFRPC and its Local Coordinating Board, the SVTA blew through $13.9 million. See: Suwannee Valley TA – $13.9 Million in Funding Since 2009: Who Was Watching the Store?

Most recently, the SVTA Board voted to give its Administrator, Suwannee County County Commissioner Larry Sessions, a $10,000 pay raise which was not authorized by his contract. The Planning Council and its transportation point woman, Lynn Godfrey, were clueless about this raise.

Speaking under the condition of anonymity, a former Board member told the Observer, "The Local Coordinating Board and the Planning Council do not want open and honest government. This allows the powers to be to do whatever they want. They are not looking for answers."

"The people in the region (Columbia-Hamilton-Suwannee counties) are beaten down to the point where they are just apathetic. What goes on in this region does not happen in other regions."

Scott Koons: Looking to Pack the Local Coordinating Board

In order to maintain its iron grip on the Local Coordinating Board, the recent vacancy for a citizen advocate on the Columbia-Hamilton-Suwannee Board was not announced or advertised.

Instead, the Planning Council's Lynn Godfrey solicited an application from a member of the Gilchrist County Coordination Board who had just resigned and recently moved to a remote area in Suwannee County.

Scott Koons presented this individual's name to the Executive Committee to be put on the evening's consent agenda for approval.

The Executive Committee

Shortly after going through some of its business, a Columbia County resident told the Executive Committee that she was interested in applying for the vacant Citizen's Advocate seat on the LCB.

The Planning Council's Executive Director gave his take on the responsibilities and procedures of the Planning Council appointment process.

Mr. Koons said, "The practice that we have been following for many years -- we ask members of the agencies that are represented on the coordinating board if they are aware of any individual that would be interested in serving in the six [volunteer] positions. We provide them flyers which they distribute from time to time. And we usually ask the community transportation coordinator in that particular County if they are aware of anyone in the community that might be interested."

The Planning Council does not announce vacancies at the Local Coordinating Board meetings, meetings which it schedules.

Executive Committee member Lorene Thomas of Dixie County asked, "Are there any qualifications for this?"

Mr. Koons answered, "This position [citizen advocate] -- the only qualification is the individual must be a resident of the County of which the Coordinating Board serves."

This was half true. The rule requires two citizen advocates, one a user and one a citizen who does not use the system, but "is concerned about the needs of disadvantaged individuals."

The application clearly distinguishes between Citizen Advocate and Citizen Advocate-User positions. Mr. Koons did not volunteer the application to the Committee.

Mr. Koons did not tell the Committee that his candidate who was before the Committee was a user of the system.


A portion of the application with the note.  ++ Click to enlarge

The application which the volunteer completed had a note from either the candidate or the Planning Council regarding the Citizen Advocate-User position: "Probably best position if possible, but other OK."

Committee Member Louie Davis of Waldo said he missed the last meeting and asked if the candidate had applied.

Mr. Koons said the candidate was "now a resident of Suwannee County. He is a former resident of Gilchrist County. He served on the Gilchrist County Coordinating Board for the past year and a half. He is a rider and user of the system... He is now using the services of Suwannee Valley Transit Authority for his appointments."

The candidate's application is dated January 7, 2017.

After some conversation Chairman Davis said, "Because we have interest in the position I would be inclined to allow the person the opportunity to apply just like anybody else. I don't know what the pleasure of this body is."

Ms. Thomas and Mr. Wilford said they agreed.

Executive Director Koons asked, "Would you want to wait and see if there are any other individuals that would respond to an advertisement?"

Chairman Davis answered, "That's what I would be inclined to do, because if the lady hadn't been here tonight to show interest, then I would have been inclined to approve Mr. Bradley, but she has interest. It would be my thought to pull that to allow time for others to apply and come back."

Mr. Koons asked, "And advertise and see if anyone else has interest?"

Chairman Davis, "Yes."

Mr. Koons:  "We can certainly do that."

The Committee voted unanimously to pull the item off the consent agenda.

Epilogue

Over the years, Planning Council Executive Director Scott Koons has had a stock answer for the status quo: "It’s the way we've always done it."

Before publishing this article, the Observer contacted ten year veteran Coordinating Board member, Ralph Kitchens and asked if during the time of his tenure he had ever seen or received a flyer regarding vacancies on the Coordinating Board.

Mr. Kitchens answer was short and to the point, "No."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On Feb. 01, 2017, a Columbia County reader wrote:

After having the pleasure of attending one meeting it was clear that many of the members are completely clueless about what is going on and just enjoy the title and free chicken dinner. That being said, I witnessed the "rubber stamp voting" of several items with only one question being raised by a gentleman from Gainesville. It was evident by the lack of true discussion that my attendance as well as the others was really pointless and needless to say I did not go back.

 

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

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