Stew Lilker’s

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North Florida Broadband Authority:
Lake City Manager Wendell Johnson Recommends 'Abandon Ship'

City Manager Wendell Johnson in white shirt during one of the few light moments at last week's NFBA meeting.

LAKE CITY, FL – 13 days short of three years ago today, with the $30,000,000 Obama Stimulus funded North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) shut down by the Feds for reorganization, Lake City's City Manager, Wendell Johnson, told the NFBA Board the Federal Government's reorganization plan "sounds like a Chinese Fire Drill." He continued, "We all know what's gotta be done." Tonight, City Manager Johnson is asking the City Council to pass a resolution withdrawing from the NFBA. The resolution gives no reason.

City Manager Johnson, tells anybody that will listen, "I have been involved with the NFBA since day one."

City Manager Johnson has been involved with the NFBA at the highest levels; had the ability to sign checks; was on all special committees; voted to fire every engineering firm that could have delivered on the promise of rural broadband; and always kept the Lake City Council in the dark.

City Manager Johnson Was a Sucara Supporter

On the last day in October, 2011, City Manager Johnson put his stamp of approval on the hiring of Richelle Sucara as General Manager of the NFBA, for $150k a year, plus perks and benefits. At that time, the NFBA had one employee, the Board Clerk. City Manager Johnson knew that Ms. Sucara had zero telecommunications, broadband, wireless or any experience with technology, and that she had misrepresented herself as being a certified public accountant in Florida.

City Manager Johnson then said that it was extremely important that Ms. Sucara file the required government reports on time. "We need to rely on our new leadership to make sure that things get done," he said.

The $150,000 Sucara replied, "I need to get trained."

City Manager Johnson was unfazed.

The Lack of Timely Information: lip service by Johnson

A little over a month later, the NFBA Board members were complaining that information which required their votes was not being delivered to them until the last minute. Board members said they would like to receive it by email so they would know on what they were being asked to vote.

City Manager Johnson told the Board, "For a monthly meeting the agenda should be prepared 5 days in advance. I propose that we mandate that. One week prior should be the standard we want to set."

Mr. Johnson never followed up with a motion. The material was rarely delivered on time, if at all before the meetings. The last meeting on September 29, 2014 was not an exception, this time with material deliberately withheld from the Board until the last minute.

As County after County pulled out of the NFBA, and nothing improved, City Manager Johnson complained from time to time, but always gave General Manager Sucara the Wendell Johnson stamp of approval, all the while keeping the Lake City Council in the dark.

Sept. 29, 2014: NFBA imploding gets purported "White Knight"

Board Chairman Kirk Reams and NFBA Attorney Springfield were not doing a lot of smiling at last week's NFBA meeting. It is not clear if they were telling all.

The last meeting of the NFBA was Monday, September 29, 2014. The presumed "White Knight" of the NFBA, the newly formed Affiniti Florida has been in secret talks with the now NFBA Chairman, Kirk Reams, the Jefferson County Clerk of the Courts; NFBA attorney, Jennifer Springfield, a critic of Florida's Sunshine law and abuser of the Public Records law; and NOAA's incompetent NTIA, the folks at the Department of Commerce who looked the other way as billions in Obama Broadband Stimulus money was squandered across the nation.

The purpose of the secret talks was the exit strategy of Affiniti, who recently also took over another NTIA Obama Stimulus debacle, Eagle Net of Colorado.

The 2013 "White Knight" agreement between the NFBA and Affiniti called for them to negotiate the pay-off of certain NFBA debts, which had gone into the millions. Affiniti's agreement did not include any provision to pay NFBA General Manager Sucara and its 3 employees for the few weeks they were owed, their vacation pay, sick time, comp time, or severance.

City Manager Johnson voted in favor of giving all the employees a full payout, even though General Manager Sucara had spent the NFBA into millions of debt, over half the member counties had pulled out under her leadership, and the network was a nightmare and a disaster waiting to happen.

City Manager Johnson also made a motion, approved by what was left of the NFBA Board, which stated Affiniti would not have to come back before the Board with any negotiated settlements with vendors unless they were over $50,000.

The NFBA Unsecured Bank Loan: $750,000 plus fees

City Manager Johnson was told numerous times and had to know that the $750,000 loan made by Mercantile Bank (now the Canadian TD Bank) was unsecured.

Along with that debt was the debt to many vendors.

Johnson classified the TD bank loan this way:

They're the one vendor, whatever you want to call 'em -- vendor that is actually on the hook for some real cash. Now, we've got some vendors that did some work, (unintelligible) the same thing by definition, but $750,000 is real cash and I made an issue of that and I was led to believe that -- at one point, that this was back up three years ago, when this started recirculatin' because of the renewal of the line of credit, this debt -- the NTIA was gonna step in and help to get that paid off. I had heard from some of the conversations those guys had when they were down here that was a possibility, and I really had my hopes up about that.

One former NFBA vendor, when he heard of City Manager Johnson's "real cash" remark said (expletives deleted), "What nerve. What does he think the tower climbers and everybody else laid out, sea shells?"

According to NFBA Attorney Springfield, the NFBA is going to be sued by TD Bank for the money.


Tonight City Manager Wendell Johnson has proposed to the City Council that Lake City withdraw from the NFBA.

It will be interesting to see if the normally "rubber stamp" City Council will finally ask any questions.

The remaining members of the NFBA do not have to accept Lake City's withdrawal.

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