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May 2, 2014

SVTA in turmoil

Live Oak —

The Suwannee Valley Transit Authority Board voted 4-2 Tuesday night at a special called meeting to abolish the director of operations position following a series of events that stemmed from the discovery of his troubled military past. Board members Jason Bashaw and Beth Burnam voted against. 

The purpose of the special called meeting was to accept the resignations of SVTA Administrator Gwendolyn Pra and Director of Operations William “Bill” Steele that were presented on Monday, April 21, to SVTA Chairman Ron Williams. However, Steele told the Democrat Wednesday his resignation letter was written by “someone without my authorization.”

Background

Florida Department of Transportation Inspector General Robert E. Clift said his office is conducting an audit of funds provided by the state to SVTA.

“During the course of the audit, our staff learned that William H. Steele, the director of operations at SVTA, had served in Iraq as a U.S. Army officer,” Clift wrote in an email to the Democrat.

Clift said staff later discovered news articles about a Lt. Col. William H. Steele, U.S. Army Reserves, that included allegations of violations of law and convictions in military court.

“We confirmed that William H. Steele who was employed by SVTA was the former U.S. Army officer by contacting staff at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and comparing Social Security number, date of birth and a photograph of the inmate that had been in their custody,” said Clift.

Steele, 58, was hired by Pra in December 2011. His employment application asks a question: “Have you been convicted for violation of any statute listed in the ‘affidavit of good moral character,”? Steele wrote “No” beside the question.

That affidavit states that an employee of SVTA must have not been found guilty of certain Florida Statutes that deal mainly with sexual misconduct, Medicaid fraud, battery, assault and others, nothing regarding military convictions.

Clift said employees of SVTA are not employees of the FDOT, they are strictly employees of the SVTA as a special district. 

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