• Report: #768617

Complaint Review: Government Services Group

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  • Submitted: Tue, August 23, 2011
  • Updated: Fri, December 23, 2011

  • Reported By: Raging Bull — Tallahassee Florida United States of America
Government Services Group
1500 Mahan Dr. Suite 250 Internet United States of America

Government Services Group Robert Sheets, GSG, Capital Solutions, Meridian Fraud, Waste, Mismanagement, Deformation of Character, Manipulation, Conspiracy, Deviant, Criminal, Ridiculous Internet

*General Comment: Keenwire

*Author of original report: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government"

*Author of original report: Florida News North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government" Columbia County, FL (Posted November 2, 2011 06:35 am | Part IX By Stew Lilker The North Florida

*Author of original report: Broadband progress assessed - More Sheet

*Author of original report: North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding Put small vendors first Columbia County, FL (Posted October 20, 2011 06:45 am | updated at 08:05 am w/sound) Part VII By Stew Lilker

*Author of original report: North Florida Broadband Authority: Blood in the street Columbia County, FL (Posted October 13, 2011 12:55 pm) Part VIa | Part VIb By Stew Lilker

*Author of original report: Just imagine not getting this next week -- IMAGINE

*Author of original report: North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband." Columbia County, FL (Posted October 6, 2011 01:10 pm) Part V By Stew Lilker

*Author of original report: FLORIDA NEWS - NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project

*Author of original report: Update: NOAA suspends federal grant for North Florida Broadband Authority

*Author of original report: A Herald investigative report: Rural Internet project suspended as feds investigate Obama stimulus program

*Author of original report: Stimulus funds for North Florida high-speed internet frozen

*Author of original report: GSG is FGUA - So...there are more scam and fraud complaints out there on Robert Sheets

*Author of original report: The North Florida Broadband Authority Its world was about to change Columbia County, FL (Posted September 16, 2011 07:00 am) Part III

*Author of original report: North Florida Broadband Authority Its world was about to change Columbia County, FL (Posted September 16, 2011 07:00 am) Part III

*Author of original report: "I think we have a failure to communicate" The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues

*Author of original report: Florida News - Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again!

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This organization (GSG) is ran by Robert "The Puppet Master" Sheets. He and his "Apple Dumpling Gang" are ripping off Tax payers!
They are plotting, planning, and basically defrauding the Federal Government and the people of Florida with their activities.
Lately, the NTIA BTOP grant awards to the organizations that they "spun-up" N.F.B.A. and F.R.B.A. are in jeopardy according to the source (NTIA and OIG).
They have mistreated and manipulated various contractors and vendors, while negotiating/strong-arming the lowest possible margins for conducting business with them.
They are master manipulators and weasel themselves out of everything that is thrown at them. They do this with how the spin their web of words, and leave their filthy little trail of "Hansel and Gretel" bread crumbs of planted diversions or blame on others.
Robert Sheets and his band of Telecom Weak Sauce, have manipulated Board Members and used their good name and crony relationships to cherry pick the boards of N. [continued below]....
.....F.B.A. and F.R.B.A.
Recently they were fired from F.R.B.A. and that project seems to have hope.
Robert Sheets and GSG are being investigated by the FEDS "criminally" and the press is collecting information and waiting for the Federal Fireworks to begin.

Keep destroying lives Mr. Sheets! Keep scaring people into submission Robert! Keep up the deformation of characters Bob! All those little people you are intimidating are class-action piling up on your booty!!
Just in case the Feds do not throw you away in a dark cell with Bubba.

References: 


  • http://nfba-fl.org/


  • http://weconnectflorida.com/index.html


  • http://www2.ntia.doc.gov/


  • http://www.bop.gov/ (And if we are lucky...)


This report was posted on Ripoff Report on 08/23/2011 08:02 AM and is a permanent record located here: http://www.ripoffreport.com/r/Government-Services-Group/internet/Government-Services-Group-Robert-Sheets-GSG-Capital-Solutions-Meridian-Fraud-Waste-Mi-768617. The posting time indicated is Arizona local time. Arizona does not observe daylight savings so the post time may be Mountain or Pacific depending on the time of year.

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#1 General Comment

Keenwire

AUTHOR: scottybemad - (United States of America)

Sounds like Keenwire is whining about somebody beating them at their own game.

LOL
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#2 Author of original report

"The greatest threat to this project is the Government"

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

REALLY?

http://www.gainesville.com/article/20110831/articles/110839870

Deputy county manager retiring; job likely to be eliminatedBy Christopher Curry Staff writer
Published: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 6:41 p.m. Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 9:29 p.m.

The second-highest ranking official in Alachua County government will retire at the end of September and the position is likely to be eliminated during the budget process.

On Tuesday, county commissioners approved a separation agreement with Deputy County Manager Richelle Sucara that includes approximately $49,336 in severance pay.

Under the county charter, the county manager and the county attorney are the only two positions approved for severance pay. Sucara has had a severance agreement in place since 1999, when she served as interim county manager for several months between the firing of former County Manager Richard Tarbox and the hiring of current County Manager Randall Reid.

"Sucara said her concern at that time was that the new manager would come in with a brand new leadership team." *We can't have that can we... sort of like Robert Sheets and GSG - similiar pattern

  • Instead, she worked approximately 12 more years as deputy manager.

  • The position was under consideration for potential elimination during the countys ongoing budget deliberations. 

  • Sucara said if the position did remain for the upcoming 2011-12 fiscal year, she expected talks of its elimination to resurface for the fiscal year 2012-13.We are certainly in the right-sizing, down-sizing budget reduction mode and the county managers office is not immune to that, she said.Sucaras annual salary is approximately $134,000. 

  • Reid said elimination of the position of deputy manager should bring a six-figure savings starting with fiscal year 2012-13.
So...wait a minute? Is she in the ranks of the unemployed like Pat O'Neal from Cedar Key? Good ole buddy Robert Sheets can find them a job...NFBA is hiring!

  1. Reid said he expected those savings to materialize even with the reclassification of administrators who will assume a greater workload and split the majority of the duties of the deputy manager. 

  2. Reid said those administrators would be Budget Director Suzanne Gable and Administrative Services Director Betty Baker, who may be promoted to be a second assistant county manager.


  3. Reid said that, during her tenure as interim manager from May to December 1999, Sucara played an integral role in the construction of the Combined Communications Center and Emergency Operations Center as well as the establishment of the first local 800 MHz radio system for emergency communications. - AHAH!! Broadband experience?

  4. As deputy manager, some of Sucaras duties included serving as a hearing officer for union grievances, the chair of the Financial Planning Committee and a staff liaison for various committees appointed by the County Commission including the Charter Review Commission. She also has handled special projects assigned by the county manager, including a review this year of the potential privatization of the county jail. 

  5. Her conclusion was that was not a financially feasible or viable option and discussion of privatization an option county commissioners were already leery of was quickly dropped.The thing that Im really going to miss is coming to work and its a different thing every day, Sucara said. You came in and its a new thing every day for 16 years.

  6. After serving as the finance director for the Nassau County Clerk of Courts, Sucara started as Alachua Countys budget director in late 1995. 

  7. She was promoted to the position of deputy manager in 1997.Sucara, 53, said she plans to spend time more time with her family, including her infant grandchildren, and volunteer with area charities.Its just time to do something else, time to open the second chapter, she said.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 orchris.curry@gvillesun.com

And then there is this...

  • Chairman Fulford told the Board, "GSG started out trying to lead us into this transition. 

  • Then it comes back that they're still pulling the strings. 

  • "It's like -- but that's just what they do."

  • CM Johnson told the Board, "We're over the crisis era."GSG's Robert Sheets weighed in from his new seat in the gallery. "


  • The NTIA has given the NFBA an impossible task. 

  • You now have given that impossible task to Richelle (Sucara) to do something very difficult in 30 days."Richelle Sucara, a retired Alachua County employee, was hired as the NFBA manager without a competitive process. 

  • Ms. Sucara has minimal experience in Broadband, telecommunications, and governmental utilities. 

  • She appeared at an NFBA meeting, as if by magic. 

  • The NFBA has no employees, although the NFBA Board has given her czar like powers to hire without review.On October 26, 2011, Ms. Sucara acknowledged that she is contemplating hiring three present and former employees of GSG, without a competitive hiring process. 


  • One employee is being hired for "business development; public relations and communications; community outreach and communications." 

  • The NFBA is already paying the NFEDP and Jeff Hendry $10,000 a month for these services.Ms. Sucara's temporary employment agreement, including her benefits, is estimated to be worth over $210,000 on an annualized basis. 

  • It has been claimed that her extensive relationship with GSG, its principals and NGN were strictly business.Mr. Sheets continued, "

  • We will not watch you go off the cliff... We've been doing this too long to let the lack of a memo have something crash... We are not going to watch something blow up.

  • "Walter McKenzie of White Springs told Ms. Sucara that he had a hundred percent confidence that she could get the job done.
REALLY? - link

Link to the NFBA series: http://www.columbiacountyobserver.com/index.html

 North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government"
(Part IX) (Posted November 2, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Redefining "Good Business Sense?"
(Part VIII) (Posted October 25, 2011)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding Put small vendors first 
(Part VII) (Posted October 20, 2011)

 North Florida Broadband Authority: Small vendors in big trouble | NFEDP/FSU's Hendry may resign(Part VIb)  (Posted Oct 14, 2011)

 North Florida Broadband Authority: Blood in the street (Part VIa)  (posted Oct 13, 2011)

 North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband." (Part V)  (posted Oct. 6, 2011)

 NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project  (Part IV) (posted Sept 28, 2011)

 The North Florida Broadband Authority. Its world was about to change (part III)  (posted Sept 16, 2011)

 "I think we have a failure to communicate." The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues (Part II) (posted Sept 14, 2011)

 Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again (Part I)  (posted Sept 12, 2011)

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#3 Author of original report

Florida News North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government" Columbia County, FL (Posted November 2, 2011 06:35 am | Part IX By Stew Lilker The North Florida

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

Florida News

North Florida Broadband Authority: "The greatest threat to this project is the Government" Columbia County, FL (Posted November 2, 2011 06:35 am | Part IX By Stew Lilker

The North Florida Broadband Authority saga continued last Friday, October 28, 2011, when after two months of blaming the Federal Government, Bradford County and its NFBA representative, Chris Thurow, and unnamed whistle blowers for the magnifying glass under which the NFBA has found itself, Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford, Chairman of the NFBA, told the NFBA Board in another of its endless emergency meetings, "The greatest threat to this project right now is the government."

Chairman Fulford continued, "Whether it's the fact that we're local government and we can't talk to each other outside of this meeting to actually deal with our business, or it's the amount of rules and regulations associated with the project that come down on top of us... and had it all dictated to us."

The federal government is financing this project

The NFBA project is being financed by federal stimulus dollars, money that will be paid back by your grandchildren.

NFBA Board Member, Lake City's City Manager Wendell Johnson spoke about the importance of working together with GSG (Government Services Group), the project management firm that was forced to resign from the project by the Feds.

CM Johnson said, "We cannot do this transition without Government Services Group and their two years of knowledge. We just can't."

Chairman Fulford told the Board, "GSG started out trying to lead us into this transition. Then it comes back that they're still pulling the strings. It's like -- but that's just what they do."

CM Johnson told the Board, "We're over the crisis era."

GSG's Robert Sheets weighed in from his new seat in the gallery. "The NTIA has given the NFBA an impossible task. You now have given that impossible task to Richelle (Sucara) to do something very difficult in 30 days."

Richelle Sucara, a retired Alachua County employee, was hired as the NFBA manager without a competitive process. Ms. Sucara has minimal experience in Broadband, telecommunications, and governmental utilities. She appeared at an NFBA meeting, as if by magic. The NFBA has no employees, although the NFBA Board has given her czar like powers to hire without review.

On October 26, 2011, Ms. Sucara acknowledged that she is contemplating hiring three present and former employees of GSG, without a competitive hiring process. One employee is being hired for "business development; public relations and communications; community outreach and communications." The NFBA is already paying the NFEDP and Jeff Hendry $10,000 a month for these services.

Ms. Sucara's temporary employment agreement, including her benefits, is estimated to be worth over $210,000 on an annualized basis. It has been claimed that her extensive relationship with GSG, its principals and NGN were strictly business.

Mr. Sheets continued, "We will not watch you go off the cliff... We've been doing this too long to let the lack of a memo have something crash... We are not going to watch something blow up."

Walter McKenzie of White Springs told Ms. Sucara that he had a hundred percent confidence that she could get the job done.

Epilogue

Time will tell if the Federal Government, the "greatest threat to this project," agrees with Mr. McKenzie and if they have the confidence that the American people's money and the project is in good hands in the hands of the NFBA, or if it is going to follow in the footsteps of rural Louisiana.
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#4 Author of original report

Broadband progress assessed - More Sheet

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

October 19, 2011
Broadband progress assessed

Board looks for change to get funding restored Jeffry Boatright

Suwannee Democrat Live Oak The North Florida Broadband Authority seeks to reorganize after its funds were suspended due to allegations of waste in the project, the agency supplying the funds has said.  

Extremely fast Internet at competitive rates remain a possibility for the area through NFBA, as part of President Obamas stimulus plan.

NFBA is a collaboration of 14 North Florida county governments and eight municipalities, including Suwannee County. It is focused on creating an infrastructure that should deliver high speed broadband access to improve economic development, education, and access to advanced healthcare services, according to the NFBA website.

As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has overseen the broadband projects through the newly formed Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP).

NFBA is only one of many broadband collaborations across the United States. The NTIA has been provided with $4.7 billion of the $7.2 billion appropriated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to increase broadband access across the nation. Of that $4.7 billion, $30,142,676 have been awarded to NFBA.

The purpose, according to the NTIA website, of being allotted $4.7 billion is to provide support to schools, libraries, health care providers and other organizations while improving broadband access to public safety agencies and stimulate a demand for broadband.

Through the BTOP, there will be three categories of the project introduced. Those categories are comprehensive community infrastructure, public computer centers and sustainable broadband adoption.

This project is supposed to bring high speed Internet service to rural North Florida and will enhance competitive rates, Live Oak City Administrator Bob Farley said.

However, there have been ups and downs with the project. Just recently, it was made known at the NFBA meeting that the board would part ways with Government Services Group (GSG) and Capitol Solutions. GSG and Capital Solutions are private companies who contracted for NFBA.

Since GSG offered their resignation during an Oct. 7, NFBA meeting, the governing board took action to remove delegating authority from GSG and Capital Solutions and will be reorganizing to carry on with the project.

According to GSG CEO Robert Sheets, his company will remain on board with NFBA to assist in the 45-60 day transition.

Right now we are waiting on the Department of Commerce to receive a response from the NTIA and restore the funds to move forward with the project, Sheets said.

NFBA funding has been suspended by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Acquisition and Grants (NOAA) due to allegations of waste in the NFBA project.

The funding was suspended pending the development of an acceptable corrective action plan by NFBA, as directed by NOAA.

The corrective action plan was submitted by NFBA on Oct. 10, in response to a Sept. 21 letter from NOAA. The letter was addressed to NFBA Chairman Stephen Fulford and addressed the concerns and allegations.

In addition to accepting the resignation of GSG and removing delegating authority from them, the board selected Pat Oneal as operational manager, Stephen Fulford as administrative manager and Wendell Johnson as financial manager. These managers shall serve as a transition team until NFBA employs its own staff.

The third measure of action taken by the board was to appoint Richelle Sucara as interim manager of the project.

Jacobs Project Management and Engineering will be overseeing the project in the future and will be the only private entity working directly for NFBA.

The NTIA maintains the project will provide job training to the unemployed or under-employed, help school children access the materials they need to learn and allow rural doctors to connect to more specialized medical centers.

The project should be completed within a year once funds are restored, Sheets said. This project will offer the most positive impact of anything I have seen.

To learn more about the project, visit the NFBA website at http://www.nfba-fl.org/.

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#5 Author of original report

North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding Put small vendors first Columbia County, FL (Posted October 20, 2011 06:45 am | updated at 08:05 am w/sound) Part VII By Stew Lilker

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

North Florida Broadband Authority: Feds resume funding Put small vendors first

Columbia County, FL (Posted October 20, 2011  06:45 am | updated at 08:05 am w/sound) Part VIIBy Stew Lilker

The North Florida Broadband Authority got back on track to bring high speed internet service to 15 north central Florida rural counties when the Federal Government, listening to the pleas for help from the many small vendors, who have been left reeling from the suspension of the project's funding, turned the money back on late yesterday afternoon. The Feds put it this way, "... NTIA has recommended that NOAA approve a partial draw down of your initial request of $7,682,813.22 ... in the amount of $1,659,683.83 in order to immediately satisfy the credit demands of certain small vendors." The NFBA will remain under heightened scrutiny and still has many questions to answer.

At a NFBA transition team meeting held in Live Oak late yesterday morning, Denise Hamilton, CFO of Rapid Systems, whose Tampa company is recognized as one of the leading experts in the wireless broadband industry and whose contract was terminated under questionable circumstances for "convenience" told the NFBA members:

 "We really have a very crucial situation. There are vendors that are putting their homes up for mortgage to pay their employees. Something has to be done."

Rapid Systems has laid out approximately $500,000 of its own money and had to lay off over 10 employees due to the suspension.

NFBA Chairman Fulford responded, "We're at their [the Feds] mercy. They hold the money.

"Rapid Systems is on the list of vendors to receive payment. - Denise Hamilton's audio -LINK

Link:  The Department of Commerce letter is here, along with the list of vendors authorized to be paid.Early yesterday evening, the U.S. Department of Commerce sent the NFBA a letter, explaining the release of some of the funds and giving them the word that work on the project can begin again.

Under heightened scrutiny

Two of the firms that were forced to resign and have repeatedly claimed that they will be vindicated of any wrong doing, Government Services Group (GSG) and Capital Solutions Tallahassee, have had invoices withheld for payment. GSG remains under Federal scrutiny, as does the whole project, which is under investigation by the Office of the Investigator General, known as the OIG.

This is not even close to over yet! - Author

Richelle M. Sucara
Deputy County Manager Alachua County
RMS@alachuacounty.us

Long time friend for decades to Robert "FGUA" Sheets is the new GM for NFBA! lololol hahahahah hehehehe This is so awesome that they continue to lead the FEDS with bread crumbs like Hansel and Gretel. Ahhhhhhh ;-)  

Read this - 
Monday, November 29, 1999 - 9:00 A.M.
5114
II. DISCUSSION REGARDING CITY-COUNTY FIRE/RESCUE MERGER
Interim County Manager Richelle Sucara presented the five (5) key decision points  for
the City-County Fire/Rescue Merger to be acted on as follows:
 1) Reaffirmation to pursue the
merger; 2) Governing of the merged fire/rescue; 3) Service boundaries of merged
department; 4) How to fund the new department; and 5) Establish a timeline.

Chair Wheat recognized Lt. Pete Melnick, Alachua County Fire/Rescue and President
of the IAFF Local; and Jeff Lane, President of the Gator Fire Council, who stated support of
a possible merger of the two departments if facts warrants such a merger.
Chair Wheat recognized Robert Sheets, Government Services Group, Inc., who
presented an overview of Funding Fire Services which included Service Delivery Alternatives,
Funding Options and Governance Alternatives and a Timeline.  The funding options included
user fees, ad valorem taxes and special assessments.
Mr.  Sheets advised the joint commission that the next steps would consist of 1)
determine services to be funded; 2) determine service areas; 3) identify service providers; 4)
identify funding sources; and 5) determine governance structure.


North Florida Broadband Authority: Redefining "Good Business Sense?"

Columbia County, FL (Posted October 25, 2011  12:01 am | Part VIII
By Stew Lilker

The North Florida Broadband Authority did not disappoint at its Friday morning, October 21, 2011 emergency meeting when, acting with its usual 12th hour policy of last moment agenda preparation, NFBA Chairman, Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford, asked the Authority Board to remove broadband experts Rapid Systems from the federally funded broadband project. This move, misrepresented by the Chairman and rubber stamped by the Authority Board is guaranteed to disrupt the project and waste hundreds of thousands of federal stimulus dollars. It is yet another example of the bungling of this important project, which caused the feds to ask for the resignations of three major Tallahassee firms and to shut the project down for over a month.

The NFBA's Chairman, Stephen Fulford sprung removal of Rapid Systemson the NFBA Board almost without warning, using the same standard operating procedure used by Government Services Group (GSG) since this reporter has been following the story. Last minute agendas and voluminous handouts rule the day. GSG e-mailed the agenda to the board members and interested parties at 10:56 PM the evening before the next day's 11 a.m. meeting.

Almost an hour into the meeting the removal of Rapid Systems from the project "for convenience" came up on the docket.

Chairman Fulford told the NFBA board, "... It's an item that I have weighed heavily on for a while. This was put on here at my request. Given the status we're in with the transition, it makes good business sense to consider this termination for convenience with Rapid Systems.

"Pat O'Neal of Cedar Key asked, "Have we vetted this at all with the NTIA?"

Chairman Fulford responded, "We have.

"Wendell Johnson of Lake City asked, "Is Rapid Systems aware that this is being considered today?"

Chairman Fulford responded, "I don't think so."

Chris Voehl, representing Rapid Systems told the board, "Our understanding from attending the CAP [Corrective Action Plan] response and transition meeting, Wednesday, was that the recommendation of that group and yourself included, Wendell, would be to echo what Jacobs had recommended -- is that we would be making (train goes by) a mistake to terminate our contract and I believe what you said also was that moving all the equipment would be cost prohibitive and our offer to the board to assist during the transition period ... we would be willing and able to assist the NFBA in their transition.

"Chairman Fulford responded, "I don't think Jacobs has made a recommendation one way or another on this..." (OOPS LIAR!)

On October 6, 2011, Jacobs Engineering's lead NFBA contact, Jeff Purdy, recommended leaving Rapid Systems on the job. Chairman Fulford was sitting one seat away when Mr. Purdy said in part, "They are doing some things that are specific to what they do and if we don't include that I think it would be a considerable mistake." Read the story here.

The removal of Rapid Systems from the NFBA project will cause chaos. Is this "good business sense?"

There are 96 site permits that Rapid Systems obtained. According to a spokesperson from Rapid Systems it appears that these sites are going to have to be re-permitted. Depending on the municipalities, this could take at least a month and untold hours of appointments and driving around on the part of Jacobs Engineering, who may have to resubmit everything. The original permitting took two months.

The way things are presently laying out, Jacobs Engineering is going to be the Project Management Office, Quality Assurance, the General Contractor and the Consulting Engineers. Nobody has explained who is going to be watching Jacobs.

There are risks involved in moving the inventory

Rapid Systems has millions of dollars of inventory, some of which is highly sensitive electronic equipment. This equipment is at risk of being damaged every time it is moved. The equipment that is presently warehoused in Rapid Systems warehouses has been carefully organized, assembled when necessary, tested and is ready to be installed as is needed on the job sites.

Moving this equipment is an unnecessary and high risk endeavor.

Chris Voehl of Rapid Systems estimates a minimum of 20 tractor-trailers will be necessary to move the presently warehoused equipment at a cost approximately $1000 a load. Mr. Voehl said the truckers may charge a premium because of the short notice.

Mr. Voehl added, "Because of the nature of the high-tech electronics in many of the components, while there is not great risk once it is installed, stationary on the towers, the risk lies in moving it unnecessarily."

Small contractors do not trust the NFBA

As reported previously by the Observer, many of the small contractors on the NFBA project have been devastated by the lack of timely payments for work they have completed. It is not clear how many of these contractors will go back to work for the NFBA unless they are paid in advance or even if they are, will go back to work for them at all.

Epilogue

NFBA Chairman, Stephen Fulford, called the removal of Rapid Systems, the only company on the project that builds wireless broadband systems "good business sense."
The rest of the NFBA (LEMMINGS) board agreed.

Moving the inventory, testing it both before and after it is transported, and then re-inventorying it so that it is ready for deployment may well cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.As the conversation drew to a close, Chairman Fulford told the NFBA board, "I think professionally it's just what's in the best interest of the project. Ya know -- from a professional position."A few moments later the board unanimously voted to remove Rapid Systems from the project. 

A transcript of the NFBA's removal of Rapid Systems can be found here.

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#6 Author of original report

North Florida Broadband Authority: Blood in the street Columbia County, FL (Posted October 13, 2011 12:55 pm) Part VIa | Part VIb By Stew Lilker

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

North Florida Broadband Authority:
Blood in the street

Columbia County, FL (Posted October 13, 2011  12:55 pm) Part VIa | Part VIbBy Stew Lilker

By the time the October 7, 2011 emergency meeting of the North Florida Broadband Authority was gaveled to a close, every major firm doing the Authority's business, Government Services Group (GSG) the project managers, Capitol Solutions, the project's grant compliance firm, and Nabors Giblin Nickerson (NGN) the NFBA's attorneys had resigned. The NFBA's special dispute resolution master, Mike Griffins, seemed to resign. Of this group of insiders, only the North Florida Economic Development Partnership's Jeff Hendry was left standing, although he was on the ropes and promised a decision on whether or not he would be resigning by this coming Wednesday, October 19th. With these resignations, the NFBA was hoping that the Feds would again open the tap on the $30,000,000 broadband grant that had been completely suspended since August 17th.

Ten minutes before the meeting began, the NFBA's Chairman, Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford walked out on the balcony to take what turned out to be a phone call from the NFBA's newly appointed Washington law firm, Patton Boggs. The content of the conversation wouldn't be revealed for another hour and 15 minutes.

As the meeting began a poker faced Chairman Fulford explained that the feedback he had been waiting for he had received in his earlier phone call. He told the group, "We've gotten a lot of positive feedback from the players in Washington. Our counsel up there has been very instrumental in helping us with the proposals that are being brought to you this morning."

Chairman Fulford then invited the Special Corrective Action Plan (CAP) committee members, who had met two days before to say a few words:
Tommy Langford of Gilchrist County told the Board, "Stephen's been in contact with our legal counsel and our people in Washington. I highly recommend we yield to his suggestions and do whatever we have to do to get the project back on track.

"Wendell Johnson of Lake City followed, "I'm very comfortable of where we're going to go today.
I agree with what Mr. Langford said.

"Sheryl Rehberg of Madison County told the assembly, "I'm not comfortable with firing somebody. I don't believe it's necessary except to get the money turned on."

None of them knew the content of the Chairman's earlier Washington to Florida phone call.

The NFBA hasn't paid vendors for months, many of whom are small mom and pop operations that are teetering on the edge, because based on the representations of the NFBA, they laid money out of their own pockets and now find themselves in financial difficulty.

Krystal Strickland of GSG explained that there is the equivalent of seven banker boxes filled with invoices and supporting material that have been sent to the feds.

Pat Lien of GSG explained that the accounting functions of the NFBA were contracted out to the general manager, which is GSG. "The general manager's experience [Robert Sheets] in doing accounting for local governments is unmatched in Florida," said Mr. Lien.

The path to reinstatement of the NFBA Grant - Reorganization

NGN's Heather Encinosa told the Authority that the clearest path to a reinstatement of the grant was a reorganization which would take place over the next 30 to 45 days.

It had been clear for quite some time that the word in Washington was plain and simple. If the NFBA wanted the grant restored, both GSG and Capital Solutions had to go. Not spoken quite as loudly, but clearly a matter that was blowing in the wind, the law firm of NGN was also on the chopping block.

Attorney Encinosa said, "Both GSG and Capital Solutions have indicated their willingness to resign from the project if that was needed to facilitate reinstatement of the grant."

First a surprise

The reorganization plan, prepared by NGN and handed out at the morning's meeting for the first time, had the firm remaining as legal counsel. NGN said it had been instrumental in the formation of the NFBA, the grant application process and the ongoing support services necessary to move the NFBA forward. It named the NGN attorneys who would be working with the NFBA. The firm has no reservations.

Chairman Fulford explained, "This was the original proposal, but based on our conversations this morning with the Patton Boggs attorney, the recommendation from the NTIA [the feds] is that we also go ahead and seek new legal counsel as well."

NGN's Encinosa didn't flinch and then explained that the firm was conflicted:  We are -- internally conflicted whether we really had the -- this is a huge drain on our time and resources as well. We are sensitive. We do not want to leave the Board in a lurch, which is why we did offer a 30 day extension at the last meeting, but we are more than happy to transition to new legal counsel at the end of the month.

Going going gone

Lisa Blair, the Owner of Capitol Solutions was the first to go. She claimed she was buried in a sea of false accusations and would be vindicated:
"That this unfounded smear campaign has brought the project to a halt is offensive to me. Given the stakes for the entire region, it is better for Capital Solutions to step aside than to allow false accusations to stop deployment.

I assure you that I will use every means possible to make certain those responsible for the damage to this project and the damage to many of the good and decent people associated with this project are held accountable to the full extent of the law." - **Oh God the Author can only pray!!

Robert Sheets of GSG was the next to go. He spoke about the importance of the project and false allegations:
"This project must move forward for the people of North Florida to have the kind of economic development opportunity that does not presently exist. For improvements in education, public safety, healthcare, and business this is a life changing project. We know that all of the unknown allegations that have been made will be brought to a satisfactory conclusion and GSG will be exonerated. We have been proud to serve the NFBA."

Bad business dies hard

Ms. Encinosa then announced that this coming Wednesday, October 19th, the transition agreements for those who have resigned, GSG and CST, will be coming before the Board after they have been reviewed by the two firms.

This is bad business as usual for the NFBA, as once again the folks who are responsible for approving the agreements, the NFBA Board members, will be the last ones to see them, with no time to read them.

Sheryl Millington of Suwannee County reflected the majority of the NFBA board when she said, "I feel it's quite a corruption of our general perception of our legal system that we are unfortunately giving the impression of assuming guilt by having to take this action... that we are being forced into this position by a single member of the board."

New Responsibilities for NFBA Board members

NFBA Board members are now assuming responsibilities that were delegated to GSG and CST.Chairman Stephen Fulford, a Jefferson County Commissioner, will keep his administrative responsibilities as the Authorized Organization Representative (AOR).

Lake City's City Manager, Wendell Johnson will be responsible for finance.

The City of Cedar Key's Pat O'Neal, representing the City of Cedar Key and also apparently the ranks of the unemployed will take on the NFBA's operational responsibilities. It is not clear what experience the newly unemployed Mr. O'Neal has in this realm.

Mr. O'Neal had been one of the leading cheerleaders of GSG and there were some on the NFBA Board that thought Rapid Systems had something to do with the demise of GSG.

On September 29th, Rapid Systems CFO, Denise Hamilton, whose firm engineered the NFBA system and was its GC, until it was fired without cause "for convenience" and had kept working, laying out a half a million dollars of its own money until the Feds shut down the project, asked the NFBA Board if it would be paid when the Feds finally release the money. Ms. Hamilton was concerned about a replay of everyone not being paid when the Feds had questions about a few firms. Mr. Fulford said they would be. Mr. O'Neal, singling out Rapid Systems said, "Not Rapid Systems."

On October 5, after the special board committee meeting, the unemployed Mr. O'Neal mentioned in a "get even tone," how,  after the money began rolling, he was going to submit to the Feds $3,000 in hotel bills and $600 in plane fare for a trip that he had taken.

Epilogue

As the meeting wound down to a close, White Springs's representative Walter McKenzie told the Board, "A lot of our problems have come as a result of our overseers in Washington." A view clearly shared by many on the NFBA.Chairman Fulford set it straight when he said, "We are all responsible for being in this position and it's ultimately our responsibility to dig ourselves out of it."

(Tomorrow Finance and the NFEDP/FSU's Jeff Hendry)

http://columbiacountyobserver.com/master_files/Florida_News/11_1006_nfba_i-don't-want-to-die-on-principle.html

North Florida Broadband Authority: Small vendors in big trouble | NFEDP/FSU's Hendry may resignColumbia County, FL (Posted October 14, 2011  08:15 am) Part VIb  By Stew Lilker

Winding down and still in trouble

As the October 7, 2011 North Florida Broadband Authority emergency meeting wound down, NGN's Encinosa told the Board, "From a financial perspective there is not really a lot of financial activity at the moment, since the grant funds were stopped.

GSG's financial expert, Krystal Strickland could sit no more. She stood up in the back of the room and told the Board so everyone could hear:
I have to say the contractors kept on working right up and in through August. The invoices are still coming in for all the work they completed. There are a tremendous number of the invoices that have been set aside over these past several months since the money stopped. There is a tremendous amount of work that has to be done, if the money does come back, before we are able to pay people.

One small contractor that trusted the NFBA

On October 11, 2011, Jerri Chaires contacted the Observer.

This is her story.

It is similar to those of other small contractors that trusted the NFBA.
The questions are obvious:
My name is Jerri Chaires. My husband began Independent Network Services 10 years ago. We are a small family company. We have 7 people working for us. I don't know who to contact to try and get paid. They owe us $114,000 and that will sink our company.
We are a family of five trying to get by. This was federal money and we thought we would get paid and we havent. We started invoicing in June and our last invoice was August 1st.We have to borrow off of our home equity line just to keep our business afloat right now, because of this. We are taking money out of our own personal equity line to pay our payroll.
Someone in our office spoke with GSG, and according to him, he was told that they were holding an $80,000 check for us.

I don't see why the government's not just stepping in and saying -- we have people who did this work and have paid money out of their pockets.
Let's bypass the NFBA and let's bypass GSG and let's pay these contractors who did the work and were on the towers.

The Final Act 

Jeff Hendry is the last man standing-

Chairman Fulford, always respecting everybody's right to contribute to the conversation, gave the floor to Jeff Hendry on his request.

FSU's Mr. Hendry, who's consulting contract with the NFEDP/NFBA is worth $10,000 a month, said he was doing some soul searching, that this was the signature project of his career and he was thinking of resigning.

He said he would advise the full NFBA Board of his decision at the next meeting on October 19th.

Epilogue

Jeff Hendry is the last man standing of the original group that brought this worthwhile and life changing project, financed by the American people, to North Central Florida.

Every one of the major players has been forced to resign or voluntarily resigned, depending on one's point of view, by the Federal Government, or as most on the Board want to believe, by Bradford County, Rapid Systems or anyone else they can blame or point a finger at.

The Federal Government is continuing its investigation.

Folks who have felt so strongly about what they have seen have been granted whistleblower status, something not to be taken lightly, as this can be a career and business breaker. Everyone that has resigned may well find vindication in not being indicted, but clearly there has been a lot more going on here than "Why is everyone always pickin' on me." And that particularly goes for the present NFBA board members, also.

The NFBA Board would do well to listen carefully to Mr. Hendry's words and do some soul searching of their own. 
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#7 Author of original report

Just imagine not getting this next week -- IMAGINE

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

Just imagine not getting this next week

As part of National Newspaper Week, we thought we'd take a step back here at The North Florida Herald and wonder aloud if there was no Herald for the past year.

This is a very self-serving editorial, but we wanted the people who are constantly criticizing the media (newspapers, radio, TV, even bloggers) to realize what a local community would be like without its newspaper.

How would you have known what your taxes were going to be this year?

In Newberry, how would you have learned of Nation's Park, the world's largest baseball complex?

For that matter, how would you have learned the details about the possible Canterbury purchase and the possible moving of the county fairgrounds?

How would you have learned of the Santa Fe High School band fundraiser this weekend?

Who would have told you of the citywide yard sale?

Who would have spent four months reading thousands of pages of documents to report to you about the North Florida Broadband Authority and how it is supposed to bring Internet to the rural areas but has run into so many problems?

How would you have known that High Springs is thinking of discontinuing the practice of adding fluoride to the city water?

How would you have learned that a local man is taking the next step of trying to build a bottled water plant on the Santa Fe River?

Who would have told you about the woman battling Multiple Sclerosis who is organizing a charity walk in Fort White?

Last year, who would have told you about the High Springs man from World War II who actually had a monument constructed in his honor on the other side of the world?

Who would have told you about the plays at the High Springs Community Theater and the Alachua Children's Theater?

How would you have learned that the Priest Theatre is up for sale?

How would you have learned that a biotechnology company in Alachua is coming up with a pill that can dramatically help people who have been exposed to radiation?

Who would attend virtually every city meeting in the Crescent Communities -- including meetings in Fort White, Newberry, High Springs and Alachua -- and report to you each week about the key votes?

Yes, this editorial is very much self-serving as we speak about the importance of having a newspaper covering your local community.

But we have to ask -- if journalists weren't bringing you the news, if journalists weren't capturing the first rough draft of history, who would be?



Read this...its more National level.

Broadband access is critical to the future of Americas low-income families, and achieving that connectivity must be a priority issue for policymakers, FCC member Mignon Clyburn told the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

Speaking at the groups annual conference in San Francisco this week, theFederal Communications Commission member said it was in our national interest that every American household, rich or poor, have high-speed Internet access.

No matter how critical things may be for us economically, we must address the connectivity needs of low-income families, Clyburn said.

She noted that recent reports show 26 million Americans still dont have access to broadband service and that a growing numbers of those citizens are living below the poverty line, particularly in minority communities.

http://politic365.com/2011/09/24/fccs-clyburn-internet-access-vital-for-low-income-families/


NFBA...its not just about you and GSG...it is about Americans and Broadband...or a serious lack thereof. 

RB
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North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband." Columbia County, FL (Posted October 6, 2011 01:10 pm) Part V By Stew Lilker

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

Florida News

http://columbiacountyobserver.com/master_files/Florida_News/11_1006_nfba_i-don't-want-to-die-on-principle.html

North Florida Broadband Authority: "I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband."Columbia County, FL (Posted October 6, 2011  01:10 pm) Part VBy Stew Lilker

Yesterday afternoon at 3 pm a subcommittee of the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) met to do what many had known for some time was the only solution which would have a chance to save the federally funded North Central Florida rural broadband project. Like passengers on the Titanic, they were on a course with destiny, as they reviewed a response to the Federal Government's questions regarding Government Services Group/Capital Solutions Tallahassee (GSG/CST). On the line, $40,000,000 and the future.

NFBA member Pat O'Neal asks for thoughts and feelings

As the meeting got underway each of the committee members weighed in with their thoughts and feelings regarding the recent events and the future of the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA).

Lake City's City Manager, Wendell Johnson commented: I was dumbfounded. I thought we were doing things appropriately. It would be a travesty if this project did not materialize.

Madison County's Sheryl Rehberg:  I know how important broadband access is to rural communities. I have never had a question about this project that was not answered to my satisfaction. I have never had a doubt that this project was being managed well.

Levy County's Chad Johnson:  It would be a travesty to this area if this project isn't completed. It changes the economic landscape. It gives us a level playing field. It gives us fast reliable Internet service. I don't like stuff being forced down upon me. I am not interested in being told that someone has to fall on the sword for the benefit of this project. I am here to fix it. Let's figure out how to fix it and how to move forward and let's go get what we set out to get done, done.

Gilchrist County's Tommy Langford: We've got to have this. The only way we'll survive in today's world is with Broadband technology. It's got to be. There is no reason for us to be where we are at.

Cedar Key's Pat O'Neal:  I've been with this since the beginning. I want to see it succeed. (CRONY)

Jefferson County's Stephen Fulford, Chairman of the NFBA, thanked the committee members for approving the engagement of the Washington law firm of Patton Boggs. He said they have brought clarity, but, "They're kinda having to operate in the same cloud of doubt that we are because of the allegations that we don't fully know what they are. We have to pursue this as a business decision. What's in the best interest of the NFBA. Everybody is going to have to give up something. We have to calm their [the Feds] fears."

For two hours and twenty eight minutes the committee fine tuned answers to the Federal government questionnaire, answers which are due on Monday and will be submitted to the full Authority Board tomorrow for approval. They then took a break, putting off what they knew they had to do and what they really were there for.

During the break, in clear violation of the law, GSG's Al Samball went around the room ripping a page out of each of the agenda books. The page had something to do with Jacobs Engineering. He said there was an error.

Perception Issues

When the committee came back there was more discussion. GSG's Robert Sheets was explaining NFBA reorganization options when Chairman Fulford jumped in. He told the committee: They've [Feds] clearly painted a picture for us that we've got perception issues. They may or may not prove to be true, but based on their actions since July they are willing to hold out until we hire a staff and stand up our own operations and administration. They've indicated they are not willing to budge. They have indicated that would solve... the perception of the conflict of interest.

Chairman Fulford explained what the Feds want: At a minimum we need an executive director, project director, CFO, and a clerk.

These are jobs now performed by GSG.

GSG's Sheets:  "This Board's only goal should be to reinstate the project and move forward.

"Levy County's Johnson said this is not like a playground scrap, "Somebody's going to have to give." He added, "Although you can tell by my personality I don't know about steppin aside."

One still wanted to continue the fight!

Cedar Key's Pat O'Neal, "I just want somebody to call the fights on let's go." - What a dumbass.

Chad Johnson told Mr. O'Neal, "Choose wisely the hill you want to die on. I don't want to die on principle and not have broadband."

There was discussion about hiring an executive director.

GSG's Pat Lien walked around the room and handed out a resume. He did not want your reporter to have one. There were extras and it was a public document.

When it was suggested that the person named in the resume just be hired right away, Attorney Bill Garner stepped in and told the committee, "The first thing you will have to do is develop your minimum qualifications and get it out for advertising immediately and within two weeks have your responses in."

Jacobs Engineering the Giant / Rapid Systems the little company that builds wireless broadband

Jeff Purdy of Jacobs said:

"He does not want to take on the lead financial responsibility.
Jeff Purdy is Jacobs Engineering's lead NFBA man. He recommended leaving Rapid Systems on the job.Mr. Purdy said he went over the project manager contract of Airwire and then he brought up the relationship with Rapid Systems, telling the committee that missing is Rapid Systems' responsibilities."
Last month, approved by the NFBA Board with only one dissent, Rapid Systems was given a termination notice. Rapid was building the system.
He said, "While organizationally they might report to us for review, approval and quality assurance... I think they have a valuable -- there are valuable services that need to be clarified. They are doing some things that are specific to what they do and if we don't include that I think it would be a considerable mistake."

Chairman Fulford discussed rearranging the contracts. Rapid Systems was previously doing procurement and warehousing the inventory.

Mr. Purdy, "I would not change your form of procurement. I think that would raise -- I would stay the course with what your original -- the way it was originally conditioned. I think it's clean that way... To change it is creating unnecessary work. If the Feds turn the project funding back on the transition plan is expected to be 30 to 45 days."

The real business could be postponed no longer!

The committee now did the business for which it assembled. The inevitable could be postponed no longer. The word for some time was GSG/CST had to go in order for any chance of funding to be restored.

The committee now did the business for which it assembled. The inevitable could be postponed no longer. The word for some time was GSG/CST had to go in order for any chance of funding to be restored.

After some discussion, Tommy Langford made motion to bring on an interim Director for the NFBA. Folks then chimed in about what they thought the rest of the motion should look like. Attorney Garner was almost completely inaudible with his advice. Mr. Langford cleverly added that more details will be available on Friday.

Chad Johnson clarified the motion.

The position would be open to applicants, not the one previously handpicked by someone unknown, but everyone.

Robert Sheets, GSG's owner and one of the prime people responsible for the Broadband Grant, was just let go.

He slumped back in his chair. He knew the fight was over. It was a TKO.

GSG's Pat Lien began to move on, Chairman Fulford cut it short.

"Hold on," he told Mr. Lien. "The other is the perceived conflict of interest with grant compliance [CST]. The recommendation is to replace that piece also. We have other ranked firms that could fill that role.

"Sheryl Rehberg: If I heard right, the NTIA has intimated that we should not have GSG or Capitol Solutions for compliance?"

Mr. O'Neal, "Do we need to throw Lisa [Lisa Blair], Capital Solutions under the bus now, or can we wait till Friday?

"The committee moved and approved unanimously to recommend replacing Capital Solutions with another grant compliance firm from their previous list of applicants.

Epilogue

After two months of debate; of vendors not being paid; of a necessary project put on hold, the inevitable came to pass. GSG and Capital Solutions will be gone from the NFBA. Also changing will be the North Florida Economic Development Partnership's role.

The Federal Government is investigating what many consider waste, fraud and abuse by some involved in this project. The financial reporting of the $10,000 flat monthly fee paid to the NFEDP's Jeff Hendry for going to meetings and eating lunch has also been questioned.Long time Tallahassee Law firm NGN is also under the gun.

Before the close of yesterday's meeting, Levy County's Chad Johnson said, "We are asking individuals, who have no proven evidence that they have done anything fraudulent to step aside and I don't like it.

"While the Federal Government continues its investigation, rural North Central Florida may very well join the 21st century with high speed wireless internet access, thanks to the good graces of the American People and the stimulus funds that many complain about.

It is the author's opinion that Robert Sheets and GSG has gone to far with Honey Rand, Ph.D., APR (813) 948-6400, Ext. 228 and the PR Group hired for NFBA, FRBA, and has always been part of FGUA and any other entity  the The Great Oz has put together or wrangled into his waste water web.

The website http://www.truthfromproof.com/ which was a horrific attack on Christopher Thurow, Bradford County, Lazaro Sanchez and Rapid Systems. It was childishly beautiful! It was a sick and demented persons angry and bitter rebuttal to the WHISTLEBLOWERS! Clear cut smooth RETALIATORY intent! Hahahahaha The FEDS loved it! It helped their case against the arrogant sons of Hyena bitches.

The Raging Bull

PS: They have since shut it down. Can't wait to see the new cleaned up politically correct and legal attack and smear website they will come up next. I am being sarcastic...I hope they actually STOP with the waste water attacks.
 

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FLORIDA NEWS - NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

http://columbiacountyobserver.com/master_files/Florida_News/11_0927_nfba-future-in-limbo-feds-keep-funds-locked-downn.html

NFBA future in limbo - Fed keeps funds locked down - Suspend project

By Stew Lilker

The September 21, 2011 North Florida Broadband Authority special meeting opened with Chairman Stephen Fulford from Jefferson County telling the Board, "It is with much regret that I had to call this meeting today." Chairman Fulford explained that representatives from the federal government were listening via a conference call. They would not be participating. Chairman Fulford explained that half way through the last meeting (Sept. 14th) he received a text message from the NTIA requesting that he join them on a conference call at 4:30. "At that time they told me that the funds would not be released, at least until October 2nd.

"Gavel to gave"l audio (17.6mg) is available.

Chairman Fulford said there are some particulars of that conversation on Sept. 14th that he was not prepared to act on. He kept those a secret. He told the Board that it was his intention to request that they not take any official action except to approve an extension of the NFBA's line of credit.Chairman Fulford continued:I believe that this Board has been put in a very difficult position.

This Board was created to be a government service provider. But we are now being put in a position to execute purposes of government at the highest level. That is to punish wrongdoing and protect innocence. Unfortunately, I don't feel that we have enough information yet to make those decisions. The people that we have trusted, we are being told that we can't trust. The people that are telling me that we can't trust them... it has been proven to me, they have misrepresented facts to me. I have been put in the position where people have misrepresented facts to me on one hand -- I'm in a situation where now -- I don't have anybody to trust... I don't know who's telling the truth and that is happening from the highest levels.

Rapid Systems' Dustin Jurman, CEO, Denise Hamilton, CFO and Chris Voehl, Lean Six Sigma. Rapid Systems is owed $500,000+. Rapid kept working out of pocket when the Board voted not to pay any vendors.

Chairman Fulford then askedRapid Systems, the company that designs, builds and operates wireless broadband systems and the soon to be ex General Contractor for the project, some questions.

A short time later Chairman Fulford said, "There are a lot of people that I want to ask direct questions of today. I am not trying to take any sides on anybody."Questions of conflict between NGN/GSG/Capitol Solutions

No questions from the ChairmanThe Florida Rural Broadband Alliance (FRBA) had been dealing with questions of conflict between NGN/GSG/CST. (NGN: Nabors, Giblin, Nickerson; GSG:  Government Services Group; CST: Capitol Solutions, Tallahassee).

 On May 31, 2011, Hardee County Economic Development Director, Bill Lambert, in an e mail to NGN's Crystie Carey, FREDHI's Gina Reynolds, Rapid Systems, and the NFEDP's and FSU's Institute of Government, Jeff Hendry, among others said in part:We must make some dynamic changes in the management structure of FRBA.

I am extremely uncomfortable with the grants manager also being the project manager. Further, I have no problem with NGN representing FRBA on grant compliance issues but it becomes somewhat difficult or in conflict when the role of grant compliance and project manager are performed by the same entity. I believe there is an unfortunate and unintended conflict of interest that has resulted with this situation. As such I am requesting the role of grant compliance and the role of project manager, currently held by GSG to be segregated by the termination of one or the other of these employment situations. I do not think NGN can effectively represent FRBA without this separation.

On June 2, 2011, after some apparent disagreement, Bill Lambert wrote the following:Well we are just going to have to disagree on this one.There really is no independent oversight that is not affiliated one way or the other with GSG/NGN/Capital Solutions. I am comfortable with GSG doing grant compliance. If I felt like they had a reasonable resume regarding Broadband I would feel comfortable with them executing the project as manager but would still expect a separation from compliance. Further, this situation is unique because the grants compliance entity is the sole interpreter of the rules the project manager operates under with no previously set standards to follow. Additionally, when the legal counsel crawls out of the same fox hole (I do believe Christie is doing the best she can under the circumstances) we end up looking like buffoons if ever placed under scrutiny.

Not good. Not good.

After your reporter read the above text of the June 2nd email to the NFBA, Lake City's City Manager and NFBA/Operations Committee member, Wendell Johnson said in part:If there was going to be any conflict the attorneys for not only FRBA, the NFBA, [and the] NTIA attorneys, they should have identified those ~unintelligible~ then, not a year and a half down the road... I think there is independent oversight and has been from the beginning and continues to today.Bradford County's NFBA board member, Chris Thurow added:I would like to add a rebuttal to Mr. Johnson's statement. Each one of those people who commented in the e-mail chain eventually voted to terminate the contract with GSG [the Project Manager].The meeting went on for another hour and forty minutes.Links:
 Mr. Hendry's expense detail
 Mr. Hendry's quarterly reportJeff Hendry, the NFEDP's (North Florida Economic Development Partnership) Executive Director, who is being funded to the tune of $9,000 federal taxpayer dollars a month, spoke about the project, the Board and his integrity.

The Rapid Systems Acceleration PlanThe Acceleration Plan produced by Rapid Systems was discussed.
Chairman Fulford said it was the first time he'd seen the plan.Rapid Systems' Chris Voehl told the Board, "This was something that was done initially in collaboration with GSG, with Robert Sheets in our office in Tampa... We received updates from the General Manager with suggestions on how we could modify the presentation... We made all the requested modifications. We sent it back to the General Manager's office. The information was never presented to the Board."The Acceleration Plan development occurred in Rapid Systems offices in Tampa on or about May 19, 2011.Mr. Voehl, a Master Black Belt - Lean Six Sigma, told the Board that after two months of inaction, a determination was made to contact the Chairman of the NFBA to review the particular details of the plan. Mr. Voehl said that GSG's Al Samball emailed Rapid on July 19, 2011 and said that the Chairman would not be returning our call.Mr. Voehl said that if the NFBA would have followed Rapid Systems' plan, "We may have averted this mess with the NTIA [the Feds] to begin with.

"Mr. Samball disagreed with Mr. Voehl's characterization of events.Mr. Samball said that he had never spoken with Mr. Voehl about the Acceleration Plan -- "Absolutely not, never happened."Mr. Samball read the email referred to by Mr. Voehl. Confirmed via hard copy, the e-mail did not mention the Acceleration Plan.
Bradford County's representative and past Operations Committee Chairman, Chris Thurow added: "I was in Tampa. I met with Dustin [CEO Dustin Jurman Rapid Systems] for lunch the day Mr. Sheets was in town... These were ongoing documents... The ~unintelligible~ that this [the Acceleration Plan] was to be presented to the Board... Crystie [NFBA Attorney Crystie Carey] got the resolution in place -- six months worth of work. Robert [Sheets] pulled it from the agenda. It was never brought before this Board ever again, until there was a work authorization for Jacobs [Engineering] for 65,000 more taxpayer dollars to review what they did...

Those are the facts, because I ran the Operations Committee."GSG's Robert Sheets weighed in. "I think everybody's recollection of the facts will differ," he said. Mr. Sheets' complete remarks regarding the Acceleration Plan can be heard by clicking the speaker.In his discussion (at about 3min 05sec) Mr. Sheets repeated an earlier assertion that Rapid Systems' documents did not meet industry standards.On September 13, Jacobs Engineering met with Rapid Systems in Rapid's offices in Tampa. Rapid and Jacobs poured through tons of documents.

By the end of that meeting it was reported to the Observer that Jacobs assumptions were based solely on information supplied by GSG.On September 14th, Jacobs Engineering via memo to the NFBA told GSG that they were going over all the deficiencies that they [Jacobs] originally claimed existed.In a power point presentation presented to the NFBA on the 14th, Jacobs removed all the slides which stated the purported Rapid System deficiencies.They are due to give a report to the Operations Committee. Jacobs'smemorandum is here.

The meeting went on and onPat Lien of GSG weighed in and told the gathering that Rapid Systems' plan was not a real plan.
Cedar Key's Pat O'Neil, the present Chairman of the Operations Committee said that he never saw the plan.White Springs' Walter McKenzie criticized Mr. Thurow for not keeping the Board in the loop. He said he is "pretty good at reading between the lines."Chairman Fulford explained that he is in communication with the Feds and that he expects it will take a bit of time for the money to be turned back on.
The Board's attorney, Heather Encinosa of NGN told the Board that she heard their frustration and suggested that Chairman Fulford go to Washington to meet with the NTIA.Sherry Millington of Suwannee County recommended notifying the vendors of the status of the NFBA. She said, "We owe them something in writing."GSG's Pat Lien said some vendors are getting ready to sue for their money and the NFBA is losing the confidence of some of them.If the Feds pull the plug, who pays?Baker County's Darryl Register asked who is responsible for paying the vendors if the Feds completely shut down the funds or if the board chooses not to follow the directives of the Feds with a resulting permanent shut down of the project? "Where do we stand as counties and cities as the members that make up this entity?"Board Attorney Heather Encinosa opined, "Under established state law... and the interlocal agreement that created the NFBA, there should not be any debts, liabilities, obligations that would flow down to the counties or cities."Lake City Manager, Wendell Johnson was not swayed by Ms. Encinosa's response and voiced some reservations.Ms. Encinosa continued, "The NFBA itself is a separate legal entity.
That is through the grant agreement. It is not with your counties and your cities."City Manager Johnson, barely audible, continued:  Over the years that I've been in government I've seen the federal government work in strange ways and I believe they're working in strange ways now.Walter McKenzie said that nobody should speak to anybody unless they were talking to the Chairman of the Board.Still, no direct questionsChairman Fulford still did not ask any direct questions. The nature of his discussion a week earlier when he walked out of the meeting telling the Feds, "I don't know where to begin -- I don't know what the allegations are," is still unknown.

Epilogue The Ominous BeepAfter 2hr, 24min and 25sec the Feds hung up. The hang up beep came through loud and clear around the room. The Board was so wrapped up in its territorial self interest and blind support for GSG/NGN/CST nobody seemed to remember the Feds were listening in. A few minutes later the meeting, which may have brought good news to the 15 counties and 8 cities represented by the NFBA and its loyal vendors, the folks that are building the system, mercifully came to an end. The funds were still frozen.Two hours later the Federal Government sent a letter(emphasis added) to the North Florida Broadband Authority Chairman, Stephen Fulford.

The news effective immediately the NFBA project was suspended and all work was to cease and the job sites were to be secured until further notice.The Board would do well to look inside themselves and heed the words of Krystal Strickland, one of the finance people for GSG as she stood in the parking lot, a tear on her cheek, at the conclusion of the August 10th emergency meeting as she told the Observer, "I hope they don't lose the project. The people in this region need it so badly.

"Take heed NFBA. If the Federal Government fails to turn the spigot back on, you will have no one to blame but yourselves.

Oh yeah... The elusive ACCELERATION PLAN, lol 
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#10 Author of original report

Update: NOAA suspends federal grant for North Florida Broadband Authority

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

Update: NOAA suspends federal grant for North Florida Broadband AuthorityPosted on September 24, 2011

The federal government has suspended a $30.1 million grant award to the North Florida Broadband Authority over allegations of waste and inadequate oversight.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sent a letter Wednesday to Stephen Fulford, chairman of the NFBA, ordering all work to cease on the Ubiquitous Middle Mile Project, which would bring high-speed Internet services to 14 counties in Florida, including Jefferson, Madison and Taylor counties.

The NFBA was awarded the money through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which received more than $4 billion in federal stimulus money to expand high-speed Internet across the country. The BTOP program is overseen by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration under the Department of Commerce.

"Due to the serious nature of the allegations submitted to the Department, NTIA has recommended that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Grants Office suspend your award immediately so that the Department may have the opportunity to review these allegations and to determine whether to allow the continuance of the award," wrote Alan Conway, NOAA grants officer.


This isn't the first BTOP program in North Florida to face scrutiny by the federal government. Last month, the city of Tallahassee returned a $1.2 million BTOP grant in the wake of voting-conflict allegations involving Mayor John Marks. The mayor was a paid member of the board of advisers for the city's grant partner, the Alliance for Digital Equality, when he voted for the grant last year.

Moira Vahey, a spokeswoman for NTIA, said in a written statement the agency has been closely monitoring the progress of the project and that it suspended work because of concerns over "project management, internal controls and vendor oversight."

"NTIA is now working with the grantee in an effort to address these concerns and to get the project on track so it can deliver the intended economic benefits to the people of Northern Florida," she said. "We are committed to the rigorous oversight of our broadband grants program to safeguard taxpayer investments and ensure projects deliver timely and lasting benefits to the public."

NTIA officials said the agency in August directed NFBA to submit an action plan to improve project management, but the plan didn't sufficiently address the concerns. NOAA has given NFBA until Oct. 10 to complete a revised plan.
Fulford, NFBA chairman, and Robert Sheets, CEO of project manager Government Services Group, issued written statements Thursday saying the suspension was the result of a dispute involving a vendor as well as a member of the NFBA board. Fulford and Sheets said the vendor and the board member objected to the hiring of a "value engineer" to review engineering work on the job.

However, Christopher Thurow, a member of the NFBA board and information technology director for Bradford County, said the federal government is investigating allegations that include conflicts of interest and waste.

According to NTIA, the NFBA plans to deploy a 1,200-mile fixed wireless broadband network to enhance economic development, education and public services. The network would connect more than 300 institutions, including public schools, universities, libraries, health-care facilities, public-safety organizations and government agencies. The NFBA said in its most recent report to NTIA dated Aug. 18 it had spent more than $7 million so far on the project.See in: Related posts:Jeff Burlews blog update: City of Tallahassee giving back federal broadband grantFlorida wont get $35.7 million federal health grantCity gives back broadband grantLegal Services of North Florida gets $200K grant to help those affected by oil spillPalm Beach County Substance Abuse Coalition gets $125,000 federal grant

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#11 Author of original report

A Herald investigative report: Rural Internet project suspended as feds investigate Obama stimulus program

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

http://northfloridaherald.com/article_9fe839e2-e598-11e0-9a10-001cc4c03286.html

When one thinks of rural areas, the images of woods, farms and pick-up trucks might come to mind.Generally, high speed Internet does not.Yet in February of 2010, residents of rural areas in North Florida, including Gilchrist and Columbia counties, were promised a reliable high speed broadband network within three years, thanks to a $30 million grant that was part of President Barack Obama's stimulus plan.It was a promise that carried with it many related promises -- economic growth in the form of job creation and new businesses, access to improved health and education facilities, and if nothing else, a chance to be on par in the digital world with urban counterparts.Fast forward a year-and-a-half and those promises are, if not in jeopardy, then seriously behind schedule.The grant project to bring high speed Internet to North Florida has been plagued by problems, culminating most recently in the grant money being frozen by the federal government and the project being placed on suspension.At least one board member of the North Florida Broadband Authority, the governmental entity created to complete the project, said that current management is under investigation from the Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General -- a claim the office would neither confirm nor deny.According to the baseline schedule of the project, the network should have 3,274 route miles completed. According to the latest project update from current management, zero miles have been completed.In February of 2010, the broadband authority was awarded $30,142,676 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) as part of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.From the $30 million, the project has used about $7 million.At a meeting in July, representatives from the NTIA, the federal agency overseeing the project, said that the project was between six and eight months behind schedule and that the broadband authority was under agency review.On Sept. 21, the NTIA informed the NFBA that all work must stop and that the project was suspended. The NFBA has until Oct. 10 to respond to multiple questions regarding allegations of waste and allegations of insufficient oversight of vendors.Because of the role Internet plays in everyday life, from businesses instantly being able to communicate internationally to schools using the Internet as a resource for students to complete assignments, rural areas without high speed Internet are being left behind in a digital divide.If the backbone for broadband Internet access isn't constructed, these areas will continue to lag behind areas where broadband Internet bandwidth is plentiful, said Dustin Jurman, the chief executive officer of Rapid Systems.Robert Sheets, the general manager of the project and CEO of Government Services Group, which oversees administration of the project, said the broadband network has been the centerpiece of plans to diversify the economy in the region."This project is the most critical economic development project this region will see in 20 years," Sheets said.The North Florida Broadband AuthorityThe North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) is composed of 15 counties and eight cities in an area designated as a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern. These areas are characterized by high unemployment and poverty levels, a lack of diverse economic development and underperforming schools.Each local government within the broadband authority has a representative on the Board of Directors. Gilchrist County Commissioner Tommy Langford and the information technology director for Columbia County, Todd Manning, both sit on the Board.The purpose of the NFBA is to construct the "middle mile" of a high speed Internet network. The middle mile refers to the infrastructure that allows the Internet to flow into an area.The project's goal is to make a series of towers with the potential to bring high speed Internet to the area. Internet companies can then tap into the network and sell the Internet to individual customers."What that grant really is doing is starting to build a broadband utility from scratch, not just deploying the network," Sheets said.Rapid Systems and GSGPart of the federal administration's concern with the project stems from allegations of waste and disagreements between Government Services Group (GSG), the company hired to manage the NFBA, and contractors hired to build the network.Even before the federal government suspended funds, one of the engineering companies contracted to build the network, Rapid Systems, reported not being paid for work completed.Rapid Systems personnel said non-payment was punishment for disagreements with management about how to deploy the network.Government Services Group denied that non-payment was punitive actions against any company involved in the project.Additionally, GSG maintains that these allegations of waste stem from one representative of the NFBA.At a meeting in April of this year, Christopher Thurow, Bradford County's representative, said GSG was incompetent, among other allegations.He said that GSG was withholding information from the board, that GSG was intentionally slowing the project down and that GSG had not answered his questions concerning the budget.Rapid Systems, the engineering company, also had concerns with management revolving around non-payment for work they felt had been completed and GSG's idea of having another engineering company checking Rapid Systems' work.Jurman, Rapid Systems' CEO, said he felt that an additional engineering company was being brought on to the project only to leverage Rapid Systems. He was inferring that the threat of using another engineering company was being used by GSG to stop Rapid Systems from complaining about GSG.In the responses to questions posed by NTIA, the federal agency in charge, GSG stated that they would not benefit from slowing down the project as GSG has a fixed rate contract.Also, GSG denied withholding information and noted that no other representative had made similar complaints.As to Thurow's statement that GSG had not answered his budget questions, GSG responded that Pat Lien, the GSG project manager, had made numerous trips to Bradford County to meet with Thurow.Regarding Rapid Systems' issues with non-payment, GSG pointed to inadequate documentation, not following payment procedures, not following terms of contract and demanding immediate payment once invoices had been submitted.As to GSG providing conflicting information to Rapid Systems, GSG stated that Rapid Systems began work without "formal authorization" from all the required authorities.Government Services Group also stated in responses to NTIA that Rapids Systems' concern about bringing on another engineer was confusing, and GSG found no basis for their concern.Government Services Group also stated that these issues were addressed by removing Thurow from his position as the Operations Committee chairman, creating a "special master" to hear any complaints regarding payments to vendors, implementing a non-interference policy to ensure individual board members do not interfere with the project and developing clearer work authorizations for vendors.Rapid Systems' general contractor contract was terminated at a Sept. 14 board meeting with only Thurow voting not to terminate the contract.According to Thurow, GSG said at the Sept. 14 meeting that the NTIA wanted Rapid Systems removed from the project.Thurow asked to have written documentation presented to back up this claim. Thurow said GSG could not present this information.Thurow said he was contacted by Chris Holt, the NFBA's federal program officer with the NTIA. Holt informed Thurow the NTIA never said they wanted Rapid Systems removed.Adding to the confusion, a design review was written about Rapid Systems' work for the NFBA. The design review was amended before being presented to the full board at the Sept. 14 regular meeting.The report noted many deficiencies in Rapid Systems' work.Jacobs Engineering, whose representative refused to be interviewed for this story, wrote the design review. Jurman, of Rapid Systems, said that the other engineering company was relying on information supplied by GSG and that Rapid Systems was given 24 hours notice of the report and no chance to respond before the report was presented to the Operations Committee on Sept. 8.After the Sept. 8 Operations Committee meeting, Jurman supplied documentation to Jacobs, and before the Sept. 14 meeting, the design review was amended. Nevertheless, the NFBA voted to end its contract with Rapid Systems.FRBA and Capital SolutionsIn addition to being involved with the NFBA, Government Services Group also was involved in another Broadband Technology and Opportunities Program grant project called the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance (FRBA).The project received a $23 million grant from the NTIA and was managed by GSG, with Rapid Systems completing the implementation of the network.However, GSG's contract with FRBA was terminated in June.Rick Marcum, current chairman of FRBA, said GSG was removed from the project because the board wasn't happy with progress. He said that multiple meetings were canceled and the project was behind schedule."We felt like we needed to move in a different direction," he said.Government Services Group has since filed a lawsuit against FRBA for breach of contract.Rapid Systems was retained as project engineer.Marcum also said that some members of the board had concerns about the relationship between Capital Solutions Tallahassee and Government Services Group.Capital Solutions was subcontracted by GSG to oversee the administration of grant money for FRBA. Capital Solutions also was approved by the NFBA to oversee grant compliance.The broadband alliance expressed concern about a potential conflict of interest between Capital Solutions and GSG.Lisa Blair is president and CEO of Capital Solutions, but she is also listed as president and CEO of Meridian Community Services Group. Robert Sheets owns 25 percent of that company.Under Agency ReviewApprehensions with the fact that the project is substantially behind schedule, as well as concerns with the project management, caused the federal agency in charge to begin to monitor the NFBA's progress more closely over the past six months.At the end of July, the project was placed under agency review and representatives from the NTIA flew down to Florida to investigate the project, including Broadband Technology Opportunities Program Director Tony Wilhelm.Wilhelm said it is not entirely uncommon for projects using federal grant money to be put under agency review, as there are a lot of rules, requirements and agencies overlooking the projects.Being under agency review means that the Board's ability to spend grant money is also under review. In order to draw money, the Board has to submit paperwork to the NTIA for approval.When the Board submitted a funds draw request for $6.8 million, the NTIA only approved $1.6 million of the request and told the Board to resubmit its request for money with only the approved spending."NTIA approved prudent expenses under the assumption that allowing a portion of the drawdown would assist NFBA with its ongoing vendor relations," Wilhelm wrote to Board Chairman Stephen Fulford in an e-mail on Aug. 17.According to that string of e-mails, Fulford did not resubmit the form immediately because he was concerned why the administration had approved some vendors to be paid but not others. He also wanted input from the other members of the Board of Directors.Yet on Aug. 18 - just one day later -- the NTIA sent a new letter to Fulford and the Board in the form of a Corrective Action Plan that outlined the actions the NFBA Board of Directors needed to take in order to correct the project's deficiencies.Most importantly, the NTIA told the Board that access to the project's grant money would be suspended until the Board submitted a response outlining the Board's intended plans to get the project back on schedule.On Sept. 7, GSG, the company managing the broadband authority, submitted a response on behalf of the Board of Directors.As of Sept. 9, the Board was waiting for a response from the NTIA."NFBA has experienced a number of external and internal delays on its project and, as a result, NTIA has serious concerns regarding the project's long-term viability and, in the short-term, its ability to implement and deploy the proposed project during the grant award period," the NTIA letter that accompanied the Corrective Action Plan stated.Behind ScheduleThe delays referred to by the NTIA have caused the NFBA project to fall eight months behind its baseline projections - projections that staff members created at the end of 2009 when applying for the grant.In response to a questionnaire from the federal administration, GSG explained that some of the delay can be attributed to the fact that the baseline plan was "developed based on a different design by planners that are no longer associated with the project."In addition, GSG wrote that the project is only one month behind NFBA's Master Plan - a plan that was created by GSG.Staff from GSG asserted that the project was still on schedule to begin making revenue in November of this year, as outlined in the business model, although that could be in jeopardy due to the grant money's current suspended status.While there were a number of factors that caused the project to fall behind schedule, three major factors stand out, Sheets said.One, the Board had to replace its original project engineer in July of 2010 because the firm was not able to provide the staff necessary to complete the required 100 tower site assessments. Rapid Systems, the current project engineer, was placed under contract a few weeks later, Sheets said.Rapid Systems had to redesign the network, delaying the project about three months, according the questionnaire.The project lost another three months when GSG began working with the departments of Commerce and Labor to establish legal wages under the Davis-Bacon Act. The act states that all laborers employed on a federally funded project must be paid no less than what other workers on similar projects in that area are paid.Project management had to secure separate wage determinations for each of its 15 member counties. The staff also had challenges creating new job classifications for telecommunications jobs that did not fall under other categories.Without the wage decisions, the Board could not even advertise for construction and contracting jobs.Finally, the project fell about five months behind while it waited for the federal agency overseeing the grant to approve the Board's request for a waiver for operating leases. The Board could make lease agreements with tower sites, but until the NTIA granted the waiver, the broadband authority could not pay the tower companies and thus, could not get access to the sites to begin work.Still, the grant's current status threatens to delay the project even further."People are still working," Sheets said on Aug. 31 "But this is going to basically bring us to a halt."Sheets said the project has been slowed for at least 6 weeks; first while the NTIA was reviewing the project and requesting answers and documents to help in the examination, and now with the money on hold."It makes one of their concerns even more difficult to respond to and that's what are you doing to meet the requirements of the grant in terms of deployment and sustainability,'" Sheets said.In an e-mail to representatives of the NTIA on Aug. 16, Fulford warned the NTIA that rejecting some of the Board's requests for spending would stop deployment, hurt the Board's schedule and damage the network's market credibility."These delays are directly preventing us from meeting the milestones that the NTIA just chastised us for during your visit," Fulford wrote. "These delays cannot be blamed on the NFBA; we have responded immediately to every request that we have received..."Regardless of who or what lies behind the delays, Sheets said it is still the NFBA and GSG's responsibility to meet all the same deadlines."At the end of the day, it's the grantee that's responsible for getting the job done, and we take that responsibility seriously."What's next for the NFBA?As the NFBA waits for the NTIA's response to the Corrective Action Plan, the Board and staff members are looking forward to moving on with the project.Once access to the grant money is restored, there are plans to spend millions of dollars in a few months to get the network back on schedule.Most importantly, GSG is concerned with maintaining positive relationships with customers who are already waiting to be connected to the network, Sheets said, referring to about 30 facilities that have written letters of support for the project.Two years ago, when this project was just getting started, the goal was to create a middle mile broadband network to cover 9,100 square miles. Within those miles sit more than 150,000 households, 25,000 businesses and 1,500 critical facilities including hospitals and police and fire stations.Regardless of the delays, drama and requirements of the NTIA, the project's end goal, and the benefits it will bring to the people of North Florida, remain on the minds of those involved with the project.At the July 27 board meeting, Walter McKenzie, the board representative from White Springs, reiterated how much he wants to see this network successfully built and operated."We need this like we need oxygen to survive," he said.Jeff Hendry, executive director of the North Florida Economic Development Partnership, said the broadband network will attract new businesses to the area and allow already existing businesses to expand."Businesses that can't communicate with their headquarter office or coordinate shipping or payment, it's a deal-breaker in many instances," he said. "If a business is looking at our area, you've got to have a world class telecommunications structure."Equally important, the network will improve quality of life for those living in the area through better access to education and healthcare, Hendry said."I believe this is the single most important infrastructure that's going to be brought to this area since rural electricity in the 1930s."SIDEBAR #1: How does project plan to bring high speed Internet to the rural areas?The network that the North Florida Broadband Authority is constructing will be beamed through the air in a high speed data stream. The data will be carried on a microwave spectrum licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.The easiest way to think of a microwave spectrum is to think of radio. But unlike radio, microwave spectrums don't spread out over many miles. The microwaves act more like fiber optic cables carrying large amounts of information along a path.The NFBA's network will be beamed through the air from towers in North Florida.The towers will create a ring around the 15 counties in the NFBA.Each tower is a point on a ring that allows the NFBA to interconnect to its customers.Internet will be carried through the air above the heads of people living in the NFBA's service area, but the network will not be able to connect to individual homes without another company finishing off the "last mile" of the network.A last mile network will require private companies to build out the network to residential and commercial areas.The NFBA will then sell broadband Internet bandwidth to these private companies - essentially creating what will act like a utility.The NFBA was awarded the grant money to build the network and link that network to anchor institutions such as police departments, hospitals, schools and local governments.When the network is complete, it will have the capacity to produce speeds of up to 1 gigabyte per second.Dustin Jurman, the chief executive officer of Rapid Systems, said these speeds are as fast as areas like Orlando and Tampa. The main reason the speeds are comparable to the speeds seen in those cites is because the network will be connected to Orlando and Tampa through what the high speed Internet industry calls long haul fiber.Long haul fiber runs up both coasts of Florida and through Tampa and Orlando. Jurman described long haul fiber as the Amazon River of the Internet. So much data is being pushed along that network that tapping into that stream of data will push all other data at high speeds.Once the last mile is constructed, the rural areas of North Florida will have the option to connect to high speed Internet, not only providing the people who already live in the area with faster Internet, but hopefully attracting businesses to the area.SIDEBAR #2: The North Florida Broadband Authority MembersCounties:Baker CountyBradford CountyColumbia CountyDixie CountyGilchrist CountyHamilton CountyJefferson CountyLafayette CountyLevy CountyMadison CountyPutnam CountySuwannee CountyTaylor CountyUnion CountyWakulla CountyCities:Cedar KeyCross CityLake CityLive OakMonticelloPerryWhite SpringsWorthington SpringsSIDEBAR #3: The Key PlayersNational Telecommunications and Information AdministrationThe National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), an agency within the Department of Commerce, advises the president on the telecommunications industry and policies pertaining to the topic.In 2009, the NTIA received $4.7 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure and adoption of broadband services, as well as to keep track of broadband capability and availability throughout the country.Enter the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), which provided grants to some 230 projects nationwide to either develop broadband infrastructure or improve Internet access.In addition to increasing access to broadband technologies, the BTOP grants will foster economic growth and job creation. A spokesperson for the NTIA said the broadband grants program is on track, and the administration is pleased with the overall progress of the program.Government Services Group, Inc.Robert Sheets founded Government Services Group in 1997 with only a secretary and one co-worker. In 14 years, the group has grown a bit.The company has worked with more than 160 clients in Florida from nearly every county in areas ranging from neighborhood improvements to transportation to public works and utilities.Sheets, who is the CEO of GSG, said he has spent all his life working with local government. Before creating GSG, he spent 18 years working with the water, sewer and finance departments within local governments.His company aims to provide services to local governments in three areas: shrinking revenue gaps, finding funding alternatives and helping localities manage services and utilities that they aren't running as well as they could."We find improvements that can be made that are consistent with that county's growth plans," Sheets said.In 1999, GSG began work with what is still one of its largest clients - the Florida Governmental Utility Authority. The authority is a single purpose governmental body, created through interlocal agreements, that owns and operates water and sewage utility services for several counties in South Florida.Government Services Group functions as a county manager for the authority but also oversees the system management, financial administration, capital program management and inspection services.The authority provides water and wastewater for more than 80,000 people and recently signed a 50-year contract with the federal government to provide water for the MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.North Florida Economic Development PartnershipThe North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP) is a joint venture of public and private entities intended to plan and oversee economic development programs in North Central Florida.The partnership is comprised of local economic developers, county commissioners, workforce development boards, regional planning councils and private businesses.The NFEDP was created after the 14-county region was named a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern by former Governor Jeb Bush in 2003. According to the NFEDP Website, six members of the NFBA Board of Directors also represent their respective counties for the NFEDP.In 2009, when the partnership began hearing whispers about stimulus money to improve broadband in underserved areas, the Board of Directors discussed at length what would give them the best opportunity to secure a grant for North Florida.The NFEDP was intrigued by the idea of broadband service managed by a government utility authority.Jeff Hendry, executive director of the NFEDP, had worked with the Florida Governmental Utility Authority before and thought it ran efficiently. He contacted GSG to ask if the model that the company developed with the Florida Governmental Utility Authority could be replicated for broadband.After GSG beat out 106 consulting firms to win the job, the company worked on a feasibility study for broadband services in North Florida, as well as put together the grant application.Most impressively, the NFEDP and GSG reached out to local governments in the area and worked together to create the NFBA through interlocal agreements in about 20 days.The NFEDP is still actively involved in the NFBA project in the form of a $9,000 per month contract with the Board to provide community outreach for the network.Rapid SystemsRapid Systems, one of the engineering companies contracted to build the NFBA's high speed Internet network, is a leading regional Internet service provider, according to a case study conducted by Motorola.Rapid Systems' headquarters is located in Tampa, which is a hotspot for wireless broadband Internet.The company also was contracted to build another rural broadband network for another Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant project.The Florida Rural Broadband Alliance is a $23 million grant project to bring high speed internet to parts of the panhandle and south central Florida.Before working on the FRBA and NFBA networks, Rapid System had success building a high speed Internet network in Hardee County.Rapid Systems also has worked with NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Undersea Research Center. 
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#12 Author of original report

Stimulus funds for North Florida high-speed internet frozen

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

http://www.americanindependent.com/195688/stimulus-funds-for-north-florida-high-speed-internet-frozen

A project to bring high-speed broadband Internet services to rural North Florida, funded with stimulus dollars, seems to have stalled.The North Florida Herald reported Thursday that in February of 2010, residents of rural areas in North Florida, including Gilchrist and Columbia counties, were promised a reliable high speed broadband network within three years, thanks to a $30 million grant that was part of President Barack Obamas stimulus plan.The Herald continues: Fast forward a year-and-a-half and those promises are, if not in jeopardy, then seriously behind schedule and have been plagued by problems, culminating most recently in the grant money being frozen by the federal government.The North Florida Broadband Authority is a government entity established specifically for the purpose of bringing broadband services to the region. According to recovery.gov, as of June 30, less than 50 precent of the North Florida project had been completed.The Authority would operate much like an independent utility, similar to a water, sewer or electrical provider, focused on creating an Internet broadband network in 15 north Florida counties that would provide capacity and reach to cover more than 154,000 households, and 26,893 businesses and provide the potential to connect to 1,573 critical facilities, and 265 health care entities, according to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.The South Florida Sun Sentinel reported in May that the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance, also created to provide wireless broadband access to rural areas, had spent about $4 million of its $24 million through March.The Florida Rural Broadband Alliance was formed in March 2010 by two nonprofit economic development corporations Floridas Heartland REDI (Regional Economic Development Initiative) in south central Florida, and Opportunity Florida in northwest Florida.The Broadband Alliance would serve 15 counties designated by the governor as two rural areas of concern. Together they represent nearly 20 percent of the land area of Florida and have a total population of approximately 438,000, but only 39 percent have broadband access.Recovery.gov also shows that, as of June 30, less than 50 precent of the project managed by the Broadband Alliance had been completed.
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#13 Author of original report

GSG is FGUA - So...there are more scam and fraud complaints out there on Robert Sheets

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

FGUA

http://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/fgua-c347958.html#comments

Posted: 2010-06-15 by  kennyhendrick2Overbilling
Complaint Rating: Company information:
NprComputers vs. FGUA
5004/5006 Shamrock Dr.
New Port Richey, Florida
United States
Phone: 727-277-8006

Please contact us with any knowledge of a class-action suit against FGUA for billing issues.

-kenny
727-277-8006

Synopsis:

Fgua (Robert Sheets) "purchased" the water monopolies (Lindrick and Aloha that we know of). Their first bill to our computer store was for 16000 gallons of water (we don't drink that much coffee).

Numerous calls and weeks later we get a call from a representative of FGUA that stated there were numerous billing issues in their office and after apologizing for the overage in our consumption/billing he assured me that they would take the next three bills (half a year in the future) and from that would average the bill we overpaid for and then allocate the overage to the bill following the next three bills (we're billed every two months and typically it's 12-15 dollars). I suggested he take our last 6 months bills and average them instead (seems more logical, yet perhaps less profitable for the profiteer monopoly).

In any event, FGUA's claim is that the prior company did not keep proper records (we offered ours, simple right?). 

In short, this is nothing more than a numbers game and here's how it's played: XCorporation overbills millions of people KNOWING FULL AND WELL that only a percentage of them will notice or if they notice even fewer will have time to address the phone tag buffer. So that translates in millions to allocate toward the few thousand they might have to pay when drawn to court.

Needless to say, we prefer real patriotism here and capitalism never really sat right with me anyway (ESPECIALLY since the monopoly board holds so few players) so if anybody else out there is interested please contact us by stopping by or calling. We will be sending flyers out to our neighbors in the immediate community here hoping that there's a provable pattern (and I think there just might be) of overbilling.

5006 Shamrock Dr.
New Port Richey, FL
34652
(727) 277-8006
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#14 Author of original report

The North Florida Broadband Authority Its world was about to change Columbia County, FL (Posted September 16, 2011 07:00 am) Part III

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

The North Florida Broadband Authority

"Its world was about to change"


Columbia County, FL (Posted September 16, 2011  07:00 am)
Part III

By Stew Lilker
The NFBA (North Florida Broadband Authority), which for the last year and a half has been floating on a sea of Federal Stimulus money, had the spigot turned off in July as the Federal Government investigated various charges of fraud and waste. Taking no responsibility and blaming the Federal Government, Bradford County, Rapid Systems and just about anybody else that they could at every opportunity they had, the NFBA was anticipating once again having millions flowing into its coffers.

After Chairman Stephen Fulford announced at the beginning of the meeting that he was told the Feds would be releasing the money that afternoon and they would be calling with the good news at around three o'clock, the NFBA gave themselves a hand. The NFBA's world was about to change.

Sub contractor concerns about money "Are you real?"

About ten minutes into the meeting Julie Brown, a subcontractor on the project, addressed, the Board, "I'm
primarily here over concerns for money. We are a subcontractor of Rapid Systems and the NFBA. Our contract reads that we will be paid within seven days. We have invoices starting back in July that still have not been paid. I am here to see if you are a real entity. Rumors have swirled around this project since the beginning but we ignored them, but they've gotten really bad the last week.

Link: The Department Of Commerce letter to the NFBA is here. It speaks for itself. (Emphasis added)

Ms. Brown continued:  Have you received funding already? Did you have the money in place when you started us working on these projects back in July? We've been asked to site walk 23 more sites. We are glad to have the work. We are concerned about getting deeper into this project without receiving some payment... We are looking at invoices that are turning 60 days old. Was there money in place and why isn't it flowing? We're not the only ones not getting paid if our phone calls are correct.

Chairman Fulford: There was money in place in July. The money was not frozen until August 13th. We have had no ability to pay funds since August 13. As of three o'clock today, hopefully, the money will be back on and everyone should be able to get paid tomorrow.

Ms Brown:  Great, so we can expect to be paid soon and feel happy about going on and doing some more work, right?

Mr. Fulford:  Yup.

GSG's Project Manager, Pat Lien, attempted to clear up the dates:  Actually, it was July 13th that our request for funds was denied.

The Board's Attorney, NGN's Heather Encinosa cleared it up some more: It wasn't frozen.

Then, Mr. Lien offered Ms. Brown some more clarification:  It wasn't formally frozen. We were put on a different status on July 13th... Ultimately, they put us on a suspension of the grant funds.

Ms. Brown inquired: So what you are telling me is you haven't received funds since July 13th? Our first invoice was July 20th.

She continued, "I wish someone would have told us what was going on."

Chairman Fulford, "I'm sorry."

A bit more to the frozen funds story-

According to emails which occurred before the NFBA funds were frozen, the Feds offered to pay all of the invoices submitted for payment except for those from seven vendors. One of those vendors was General Manager Robert Sheets' company GSG; the other, Capitol Solutions the Grant Compliance company.

Rather than accept the deal, Chairman Fulford elected not to receive any money and the funds were frozen It appears that if this were not the case, Ms. Brown and many others would have been paid. At a meeting subsequent to this, the NFBA members supported Mr. Fulford's actions. Bradford County did not.

The Feds

Link: You can see those e mails No Deal 1 and No Deal 2.
(Emphasis added - adjust the popup to fit your view) - must see


Link #2 - must see

The meeting rolled along. GSG's Robert Sheets, always well spoken, gave his take of the events with the Feds. He said in part:  At the end of the day they provided us with tremendous guidance in the overall direction. They wanted to have comfort and certainty in that we were moving forward.

Walter McKenzie of White Springs added: I think we are probably being called on to do some extra work that will not increase the efficiency or the accountability of our organization, but it will satisfy the requirements of what the folks in Washington want to have.

Mr. McKenzie thanked GSG's and the NFBA's Program Manager Pat Lien for all he had done. Mr. Lien said, "Thank you very much. Especially in the financial controls, this is absolutely not just a Everybody continued to thank everybody and Tommy Langford of Gilchrist County said, "This really boosted my faith in what we got goin here."

At just before 3 o'clock, Mr. Lien said Krystal Strickland of GSG and the NFBA's Assistant CFO had a draw request of $7.6 mil already submitted to pay the vendors and it would be released as soon as the Federal Funds were released.

Sometime after that, the new Operations Committee Chairman, Pat O'Neil left, smiling and patting everyone on the back as he headed toward the exit. Three o'clock came and went, the monthly NFBA meeting continued and there was no phone call from the Feds.

After a presentation by Jacobs Engineering's Mark Bonner, some general business and a report by the NFEDP's Jeff Hendry, there was no more business, it was after 4 pm.

At 4:07 pm, with the meeting's business completed, Mr. Fulford adjourned the meeting. The three o'clock phone call from the Feds still had not arrived The Chairman's phone rings finally 4:30 pm

At 4:30 pm Chairman Fulford's cell phone rang. The conversation was not put on speaker phone and the call almost went unnoticed by the folks still in the room. After about five minutes, the time it would have taken for the Feds to tell him the funds were released, Mr. Fulford's head began to droop and he used his hands to hold up it up.

He began slouching over and as his eyes welled up with tears he could be heard saying, "I don't know where to begin -- I don't know what the allegations are." That was the last thing anybody could hear and a few minutes later, phone in hand, Mr. Fulford headed out the door to the balcony.

About 20 minutes later Mr. Fulford returned to the meeting room. He was not looking well. Someone asked, "Is it good news or bad news?" Barely able to get the words out, Mr. Fulford said, "They'll be no money today."

Your reporter asked, "Is that a joke?"  His answer was "no." The Observer, "When will the money come?" Mr. Fulford, "The second at the earliest. They did not release the funds." The Observer, "Did they give a reason?" Mr. Fulford, "I'll have an emergency meeting next  week, so that I can explain it to the whole Board." The Observer, "So you know what the reasons are now?" Mr. Fulford, "Yes. They gave some more items that  they'd like related to corrective actions."
The Observer, "All the stuff that was there today, that's OK?" Mr. Fulford, "Right."

The Federal government is looking for corrective  actions and withholding $7.6 million. 

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#15 Author of original report

North Florida Broadband Authority Its world was about to change Columbia County, FL (Posted September 16, 2011 07:00 am) Part III

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

Florida News

The North Florida Broadband Authority: "Its world was about to change"

Columbia County, FL (Posted September 16, 2011  07:00 am)
Part III


By Stew Lilker

The NFBA (North Florida Broadband Authority), which for the last year and a half has been floating on a sea of Federal Stimulus money, had the spigot turned off in July as the Federal Government investigated various charges of fraud and waste. Taking no responsibility and blaming the Federal Government, Bradford County, Rapid Systems and just about anybody else that they could at every opportunity they had, the NFBA was anticipating once again having millions flowing into its coffers.

After Chairman Stephen Fulford announced at the beginning of the meeting that he was told the Feds would be releasing the money that afternoon and they would be calling with the good news at around three o'clock, the NFBA gave themselves a hand. The NFBA's world was about to change.

Sub contractor concerns about money "Are you real?"

Julie Brown - She just wanted to get paid.

About ten minutes into the meeting Julie Brown, a subcontractor on the project, addressed, the Board, "I'm primarily here over concerns for money. We are a subcontractor of Rapid Systems and the NFBA. Our contract reads that we will be paid within seven days. We have invoices starting back in July that still have not been paid. I am here to see if you are a real
entity. Rumors have swirled around this project since the beginning but we ignored them, but they've gotten really bad the last week.

Ms. Brown continued:  Have you received funding already? Did you have the money in place when you started us working on these projects back in July? We've been asked to site walk 23 more sites. We are glad to have the work. We are concerned about getting deeper into this project without receiving some payment... We are looking at invoices that are turning 60 days old.  Was there money in place and why isn't it flowing? We're not the only ones not getting paid if our phone calls are correct.

Chairman Fulford: There was money in place in July.

The money was not frozen until August 13th. We have had no ability to pay funds since August 13. As of three o'clock today, hopefully, the money will be back on and everyone should be able to get paid tomorrow.

Ms Brown:  Great, so we can expect to be paid soon and feel happy about going on and doing some more work, right?

Mr. Fulford:  Yup.

GSG's Project Manager, Pat Lien, attempted to clear up the dates:  Actually, it was July 13th that our
request for funds was denied.  The Board's Attorney, NGN's Heather Encinosa cleared it up some more: It wasn't frozen.
Then, Mr. Lien offered Ms. Brown some more clarification:  It wasn't formally frozen. We were put on a different status on July 13th... Ultimately, they put us on a suspension of the grant funds.

Link: The Department Of Commerce letter to the NFBA is here. It speaks for itself. (Emphasis added)

Ms. Brown inquired: So what you are telling me is you haven't received funds since July 13th? Our first invoice was July 20th.
She continued, "I wish someone would have told us what was going on."

Chairman Fulford, "I'm sorry."

A bit more to the frozen funds story According to emails which occurred before the NFBA funds were frozen, the Feds offered to pay all of the invoices submitted for payment except for those from seven vendors. One of those vendors was General Manager

Robert Sheets' company GSG; the other, Capitol Solutions the Grant Compliance company.  Rather than accept the deal, Chairman Fulford elected not to receive any money and the funds were frozen.

Link: You can see those e mails No Deal 1 and No Deal 2. (Emphasis added - adjust the popup to fit your view)

It appears that if this were not the case, Ms. Brown and many others would have been paid.

At a meeting subsequent to this, the NFBA members supported Mr. Fulford's actions. Bradford County did not.
 
The Feds

It's been a tough year for GSG and its owner, Robert Sheets.  The meeting rolled along. GSG's Robert Sheets, always
well spoken, gave his take of the events with the Feds.

He said in part:  At the end of the day they provided us with tremendous guidance in the overall direction. They wanted to have comfort and certainty in that we were moving forward.

Walter McKenzie of White Springs added: I think we are probably being called on to do some extra work that
will not increase the efficiency or the accountability of our organization, but it will satisfy the requirements of what the folks in Washington want to have.

Mr. McKenzie thanked GSG's and the NFBA's Program Manager Pat Lien for all he had done.

Mr. Lien said, "Thank you very much. Especially in the financial controls, this is absolutely not just a
sledgehammer, but a howitzer taking care of a mosquito."  Everybody continued to thank everybody and Tommy
Langford of Gilchrist County said, "This really boosted my faith in what we got goin here."

At just before 3 o'clock, Mr. Lien said Krystal Strickland of GSG and the NFBA's Assistant CFO had a draw request of $7.6 mil already submitted to pay the vendors and it would be released as soon as the Federal Funds were released.

Sometime after that, the new Operations Committee Chairman, Pat O'Neil left, smiling and patting everyone on the back as he headed toward the exit.

Three o'clock came and went, the monthly NFBA meeting continued and there was no phone call from the Feds.  After a presentation by Jacobs Engineering's Mark Bonner, some general business and a report by the NFEDP's Jeff Hendry, there was no more business, it was after 4 pm.

At 4:07 pm, with the meeting's business completed, Mr. Fulford adjourned the meeting. The three o'clock phone call from the Feds still had not arrived

The Chairman's phone rings finally 4:30 pm

The Chairman on the balcony. The conversation was not going well.

At 4:30 pm Chairman Fulford's cell phone rang. The conversation was not put on speaker phone and the call almost went unnoticed by the folks still in the room.  After about five minutes, the time it would have taken for the Feds to tell him the funds were released,

Mr. Fulford's head began to droop and he used his hands to hold up it up. He began slouching over and as his eyes welled up with tears he could be heard saying, "I don't know where to begin -- I don't know what the allegations are."

That was the last thing anybody could hear and a few minutes later, phone in hand, Mr. Fulford headed out the door to the balcony.

About 20 minutes later Mr. Fulford returned to the meeting room. He was not looking well.  Someone asked, "Is it good news or bad news?"  Barely able to get the words out, Mr. Fulford said,

"They'll be no money today."

Your reporter asked, "Is that a joke?" His answer was "no." 
The Observer, "When will the money come?" 

Mr. Fulford, "The second at the earliest. They did not release the funds." 

The Observer, "Did they give a reason?"

Mr. Fulford, "I'll have an emergency meeting next week, so that I can explain it to the whole Board."

The Observer, "So you know what the reasons are now?"

Mr. Fulford, "Yes. They gave some more items that they'd like related to corrective actions."

The Observer, "All the stuff that was there today,
that's OK?"

Mr. Fulford, "Right."

The Federal government is looking for corrective actions and withholding $7.6 million. 
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#16 Author of original report

"I think we have a failure to communicate" The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (USA)

Florida News

"I think we have a failure to communicate"

The N Florida Rural Broadband saga continues Columbia County, FL (Posted September 14, 2011  09:31 am) | Part IIBy Stew LilkerOn July 12, 2012, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Christopher Holt reported discouraging news regarding the North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) project to establish rural broadband in 15 Florida counties.

He reported the following: Overall spending: should be 75%.
          It is actually at 20%
New miles deployed: should be 566.
           It is actually at 0
Wireless links: should be 67.
          They are actually at 0
Points of interconnection: should be 55.
           They are actually at 0 or nowhere near 55
Signed LM agreements: should be 22.
           They are actually at 0 or nowhere near 22
Potential LM agreement: should be 36 actually.
          They are at 0 or nowhere near 36.
Connected CAIs: should be 72.
         
They are actually at 0.Mr. Holt's conclusion, "The Project is significantly behind."The NTIA's report speaks for itself. Based on this performance, the NTIA shut down the funding to the NFBA and ordered them to come up with a Corrective Action Plan. By every measure the NFBA project is behind schedule. So far behind that the Government must decide if the deficiencies can be made up in the time allowed by the grant. If the Feds decide that the project has been so badly run that the deficiency can never be made up, the individual county representatives will have to go to their constituents and tell them that they have to pay back the money -- now somewhere around $10,000,000 out of a total of $40 million which is scheduled to be spent on the project.

What is going on here?

The Governmental Service Group (GSG) is administering the project for the NFBA. Their expertise is in water and waste water. They have never built a wireless broadband network before.Folks at GSG keep disappearing. Others as well. Each move rubber stamped or blind eyed by the NFBA.

The engineers: Aspen Wireless reported to have come up with the conceptual design. Good bye Aspen.Keenwire and Air Wire were next.Now sitting in the wings on the chopping block is, Rapid Systems, the folks who are presently building the system and paying for it out of their own pockets, while the Feds hold the money.

Rapid Systems, out of Tampa, a Florida firm, is the only firm that has successfully built a broadband wireless network from the ground up.

Finance people -- out: Director of Financial Services, Heidi Snyder took a position with a local government.
Senior Project Manager Marguerite McCauley, left to take a position as CFO with a health care consulting firm.

FRBA, the Florida Rural Broadband Alliance was built by Rapid Systems in four months.
Rapid Systems is running the network.

GSG was the Project Management Firm. GSG was fired.

The attorney -- quit: The lead NFBA Attorney and a former senior partner with the law firm of NGN, the experienced and respected Crystie Cary gone.

She remains the chief attorney for FRBA.

On April 26, 2011, the Operations Committee held a special meeting to discuss the concerns of its Chairman, Christopher Thurow of Bradford County.

Mr. Thurow is Bradford County's representative on the NFBA. He is an IT professional and has been voicing his concerns regarding the NFBA project for a long time. The NFBA refused to listen and recently considered making an attempt to remove him from the NFBA board. It appears that they have had second thoughts.

During the April 26th meeting, Mr. Thurow brought up his "concerns with the network implementation and management."The General Manager of the project is Robert Sheets of GSG.

The NFBA's clerk, Faith Doyle, is an employee of GSG and reports directly to Mr. Sheets. The minutes do not include quotes and it is impossible to know what the speakers have really said and in many instances, who is saying it.

Many times this works; sometimes the results are questionable.

The minutes of April 26th reflect that Mr. Thurow discussed issues he has with GSG, the General Manager of the project. "The general manager has never built a project like this in his opinion and Chairman Thurow has never felt GSG had the expertise to do so.

Chairman Thurow is concerned that there has [had] been several engineers let go from the project.""Chairman Thurow states that for the last 1.5 years he has been making decision[s] he didnt want to make.

He has concerns across both NFBA and FRBA and didnt want to call the meeting, but will look to the board chairman to make changes to the purchasing policy...""The project is stumbling along""Chairman Thurow has talked to the engineers and vendors... He is concerned that the project is stumbling along..." "Chairman Thurow stated he is here to go over specific financial deficiencies. That the general manager is judge, jury and executioner and signs his own pay check and he cant do that.

"Lake City's City Manager, Wendell Johnson, at the same meeting reportedly said something to the effect that "the level of concern being expressed is questionable."Last month on August 23rd, Wendell Johnson told the NFBA, "We got all these problems and none of these board members sittin at this table know about it except Mr. Thurow."

The minutes of the August 23d meeting have been pulled from the agenda for today's September 14th meeting.Today, Wendell Johnson is scheduled to be nominated to be the NFBA's financial administrator and treasurer. It is unknown if Mr. Johnson understands why the Feds have stopped financing the project and many of the other things that have gone on.

Jacobs Engineering - White night or the Prince of Darkness

Also scheduled on today's agenda is the removal of Rapid Systems from most of the NFBA project.Evaluating Rapid Systems is a firm brought in from California, Jacobs Engineering. Jacobs has a worldwide reputation, but apparently has no experience in building up and running wireless broadband networks.

If it does, it is not mentioned on their website.Recently, in a report prepared for GSG and the NFBA, Jacobs, working only with information supplied by GSG, ripped Rapid Systems, the folks that actually build and operate wireless broadband networks, never going to them to confirm GSG's charges or get the rest of the story.At every opportunity that they could, their report showed that Rapid Systems was deficient, deficiencies that clearly turned out to be false.

Deficiencies that if accurate are reputation busters.

With very limited time, Rapid Systems enlightened Jacobs at the Operations Committee Meeting that was held last Thursday, September 8th, where it was publically discovered that Jacobs never went to Rapid to verify anything that GSG had told them.The minutes for that meeting they are nonexistentImportant discussions, revelations and decisions took place at the September 8th meeting.

There are no minutes for the full NFBA board to review in their decision making process today.

Jacobs and Rapid are meeting in Tampa this morning. Jacobs claims to be a firm of high integrity. They will have the opportunity to set the record straight this afternoon in Live Oak, where based on their recommendations, the NFBA will decide whether or not to award them much of the work Rapid Systems was doing and continues to finance out of their own pockets.

 Rapid's CFO, Denise Hamilton, estimates that Rapid is almost $500,000 out of pocket to keep the project running while the Fed's are holding the money. Ms. Hamilton told the Observer, "We told the NFBA we would keep the project running and keep the folks working, while this works itself out. We are a company that relies on our integrity.
Our word is our bond.

"On April 26, 2011, GSG's Faith Doyle's minutes of that days Operations Committee meeting stated the following.
The speaker is apparently GSG's sole owner and the Project General Manager, Robert Sheets:He has no issues with Rapid Systems as the people we reached out to in tough times and they continue to deliver on a tough project that has issues everyday some minor and some major and some not addressed, but there is no lack of support for Rapid Systems. They need to know there is no lack of confidence with them. Concerning the separation of duties Mr. Sheets cautioned to be careful when you cut the baby in half. Having Rapid Systems providing you directly with information should be no problem. We are here to create a utility and will do whatever the board instructs us to do. We are the general manager. We welcome changes but all should be cautious on dividing responsibilities. (Emphasis added by the Observer)

Epilogue

This is one of the most valuable projects to ever come along to rural North Central Florida, an area, which for generations has been racked by good ol' boy cronyism, poor schools and almost no economic development. This project, funded by all of the American people, will allow poor families and businesses to become part of the high speed world.

It should be obvious to the untrained eye that it has been badly managed and is behind schedule. That is not the fault of the folks that will benefit from it.

It is fashionable today to rail against government and to think that all business and politicians are out to screw somebody.
In this story there are good guys: Rapid Systems, Bradford County's Christopher Thurow, Crystie Cary and the whistle blowers that are speaking with the Feds, and yes the Feds -- the NTIA and the OIG.

For the folks in North Central Florida and all Americans, it is important that the Federal Government do its job and if wrongful acts have been committed, they should be punished.Hopefully the Feds will remember, you don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 
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#17 Author of original report

Florida News - Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again!

AUTHOR: Raging Bull - (United States of America)

http://www.columbiacountyobserver.com/master_files/Florida_News/11_0912_feds-close-the-spigot-on-$30million-broadband-stimulus-grant.html
 
Florida News

Feds close spigot on $30 million broadband stimulus grant. 15 north central Florida counties waiting for money to flow again!

Columbia County, FL (Posted September 12, 2011  10:30 am) Part I
By Stew Lilker

On August 19, 2009, the newly formed North Florida Broadband Authority (NFBA) applied to the Federal Government for a $30 million grant, funded by Federal Stimulus money. The grant application, hastily put together by Government Services Group (GSG) and Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson (NGN) of Tallahassee, if successful, would be used to build a wireless internet network, which would serve some of the poorest and most educationally challenged households in Florida, passing 154,000 households and almost 27,000 businesses.

On February 12, 2010, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the Department of Commerce awarded the $30 mil grant to the NFBA, a group which was hastily created by the North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP) in 17 days. Last month, the Feds closed the spigot on the Federal dollars until the NFBA and GSG answered some questions.

The NFEDP, under the direction of FSU's Jeff Hendry, paid GSG approximately $30,000 to write the grant.

The NFEDP received a no bid consultant contract, now apparently worth $140,000 a year, from the NFBA, paid of course with stimulus money.

GSG was established in 1996 with a board of directors consisting of three of the principals of the law firm of Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson, Misters Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson, and Robert Sheets. In 2004, Robert Sheets became the sole owner of GSG. NGN has billed the NFBA for hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

GSG appears to have billed the NFBA over $1,000,000 so far.

To this day, GSG, NGN and a firm we will soon learn about, Meridian Community Services Group, a firm in which GSG's Robert Sheets has an unknown investment, and its sudden break-away firm of

Capital Solutions, both grant compliance firms, are all located conveniently and apparently not by chance at 1500 Mahan Drive in Tallahassee.
Last month, the Feds closed the spigot on the Federal dollars until the NFBA and GSG answered some questions.


The Grant

The NTIA and the OIG, the Office of the Inspector General, are investigating. Some folks in the project call it fact finding. In fact, due to the serious nature of the investigation and the claims, there are a number of people who have been granted whistle blower status and are cooperating fully with the Federal Government.

The grant award, which when the in-kind contributions are factored in, actually comes to $39.4 million of other people's money.
To GSG's, NGN's, and NFEDP's credit, this was the only Broadband grant awarded in Florida in round one.

GSG

GSG's field of expertise is water and waste water management. Before applying for the Broadband Grant, GSG had absolutely zero experience in any kind of Broadband, unless one counts hooking up a laptop to a wi-fi hotspot, a fact readily admitted by GSG's owner, Mr. Sheets.
After the Operations Committee meeting on September 8th, a gracious Robert Sheets, who is beginning to look a little worse for wear, spent a few minutes with the Observer.


THE OBSERVER:  You never did broadband before this, did you?
MR. SHEETS:  No. But we have managed infrastructure. I put in the broadband expertise which was Pat and Denise, and Al and Donnie, and Jason -- just like we did in water and sewer. I couldn't repair a pipe if I had to.

Grant Writing is not a free pass from procurement laws

One must always keep in mind that state of Florida has no way to investigate public corruption, an investigatory act that is discouraged at the highest state levels. However, year after year, Florida leads the nation in Federal indictments of public officials.

Grant writing is a skill and to some a profession. There are firms that specialize in grant writing. Grant writing firms generally work for a fixed fee or a percentage of the grant if it is awarded. Some firms have grant writers on staff.

GSG, with help from NGN, wrote the grant that was awarded to the NFBA.

The NFBA, the membership which appears to have been arranged by the NFEDP's Jeff Hendry, initially included 12 counties and 7 cities. It now includes 15 counties and 8 cities. Each member appoints one member to the Governing Board of the NFBA.

The NFBA's Governing Board has as its individual members, county commissioners, IT experts, a city manager, economic development folks and others.

To date, in a trail that is difficult to follow, GSG has billed the NFBA somewhere around a million dollars for its services as the Project Manager.

The Observer asked Mr. Sheets about that and why his job (GSG's project management) did not go out for proposals.
THE OBSERVER:  When you got hired to be (Mr. Sheets finished the sentence)
MR. SHEETS:  The Project Manager
THE OBSERVER:         Did that go out for proposals?
MR. SHEETS:   No. Because we were the team brought in by the NFEDP to try to put together this governmental entity that had no money. In fact we paid for this for seven months out of my pocket, because the authority had no money. It had no money to buy its own insurance. To pay for its own advertising. Who paid for that? I did. I took a risk.

This appears to run counter to procurement laws all over. Even in Florida writing a grant does not mean an automatic end run around a competitive procurement process.
Grant Compliance Capitol Solutions

Capitol Solutions is a firm owned by Lisa Blair. Ms. Blair appears to be knowledgeable in matters regarding grant compliance. On May 28, 2010, at 4:06 pm, Ms. Blair formed the limited liability corporation, called Capitol Solutions.

On May 28th at 5 pm, the proposals for Grant Compliance were due in the offices of the NFBA, l
located at 1500 Mahan Drive. Coincidentally, this is also the location of GSG, NGN and Meridian Community Services Group, a well-established grant compliance company owned by Ms. Blair.

It has been acknowledged by GSG, that Ms. Blair supplied language for the RFP for grant compliance.

It is not clear, why at the twelfth hour, less than one hour before the application was due that Ms. Blair felt it necessary to submit a proposal for a grant under a company with a different name from Meridian.

Ms. Blair's grant proposal leaves out any mention of Meridian, even though every employee mentioned in the Capital Solutions application works for Meridian. Meridian is the same office as Capitol Solutions, uses the same desks and the same phones. The only distinction seems to be that Capitol Solutions has its own fax and phone number.

GSG's Sheets participated in the meeting where the applicants were ranked. It is not clear if he filled out a ranking sheet, however the rather rough minutes of the meeting read:  "R [Robert Sheets] don't want to influence - but scored capital solutions 1 and KPMG no. 2."
Capitol Solutions was awarded the contract, which has flat fee value of $150,000 a year.
During your reporter's conversation with Mr. Sheets, the question of him signing his own checks came up. Capitol Solutions, the grant compliance company, was mentioned in that conversation.


THE OBSERVER:         I heard that Bob Sheets was signing his own checks. Is that true?
MR. SHEETS:   Yeah -- but after eight other people looked at them. Our invoices are reviewed by three other companies.
THE OBSERVER:     So when you sign a pay voucher for yourself, a whole bunch of people have reviewed them; they are not associated with you at all?
MR. SHEETS:   Absolutely.
THE OBSERVER:         Who are they associated with?
MR. SHEETS:   You have Capitol Solutions. You have Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson (NGN). They are totally separate firms.
THE OBSERVER:         Capitol Solutions -- somebody said you own Capitol solutions?
MR. SHEETS:   Not a nickel.
THE OBSERVER:         Meridian?
MR. SHEETS:   Not a nickel.
THE OBSERVER:         Meridian?
MR. SHEETS:   I own shares in Meridian.
THE OBSERVER:         But they use Meridian's office. Please -- everything that Meridian has -- they are not separate and apart from Capital Solutions.
MR. SHEETS:         They are. They have their own phone number. She has two companies. I have one company.

Epilogue

The NTIA and the OIG, the Office of the Inspector General, are investigating. Some folks in the project call it fact finding. In fact, due to the serious nature of the investigation and the claims, there are a number of people who have been granted whistle blower status and are cooperating fully with the Federal Government.

While a lot of people are against the stimulus funds, this project is worthwhile and hopefully will enhance the opportunity of the poor folks in the rural counties of North Central Florida, putting them easily and economically in touch with the rest of the world.
The rural child living down the end of the dirt road, unable to afford and unable to hook up to the internet, if this project is successful may have the same chance as Jeff Hendry's daughters to dream impossible dreams.

If there is corruption and influence peddling in this project the Federal Government should root it out with all the power at hand and send a message for all to see that this will not be tolerated.

Tomorrow or Wednesday morning:  Part II 
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