Friday, February 12, 2016

The Political Media Class

The political media class is no longer journalists they are arbitrators deciding who qualifies and for whom you should or should not vote.


St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

We have heard a lot about the "political class" in this presidential election cycle but not to be over looked is the "political media class."

From the very beginning of Trump's and Sander's campaign the mainstream political media pundits, reporters, anchors, news directors and media outlets have for the most part decried their candidacies.

At first, they treated both of them as a joke, then as political anomalies then as a threat.

The political media class is tied to political insiders as stink is to a skunk. Most of these people make their living from their access to and media coverage of the political class.

What I find so disturbing about all of this is the political media class really believes they know what is best for this country. From NPR to Fox and CNN they are trying desperately to manipulate this presidential race.

A good example is this  NEWSMAX piece.  Dick Morris: Rubio, Fox News Big Losers From New Hampshire.

It is not only how they cover candidates, or what the pundits actually say but it is how the political overage is provided and structured.

Trump figured out the media early on and has manipulated them in a truly magnificent way.

The media is seething about it, attacking Trump on all sides but afraid to drop their coverage of him for fear of losing out to other media outlets in the competitive ratings race.

Several, such as NPR and Fox have scaled back their news coverage of Trump but it has had little effect.

The point of all of this is it is difficult to get a real neutral view of any candidate from social media or any of the networks especially the cable networks.

The political media class is no longer journalists reporting but they are arbitrators deciding who qualifies and for whom you should or should not vote.

The very foundation of this country is based on the fact you do not have to be part of a political class to be elected to govern at any level. The people not the political media class decide who will be elected to public offices.

I am fed up with the political media class crying about Trump, worrying about Sanders and pushing Marco Rubio in my face every time I change channels.

Whether you are watching broadcast news, cable news or reading social media just remember every one of these outlets, reporters, pundits and commentators, including me, have a personal agenda.

As a voter, you are smart enough to see through all of this. Pick out the person you truly believe in and vote for them. It is just that simple.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Disclosures:
Contributor: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Taking the temperature of the Rays stadium search

Tampa and Rays did not waste any time setting up the first meeting.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

The stadium search deal between the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg is done. In a 5-3 vote, City Council approved the latest Kriseman plans to let the Rays look in Pinellas and Hillsborough County for a new stadium site.

The Tampa Bay Times was all aglow in their Editorial: Rays deal a positive step forward for city, region.

It was time to get this issue resolved, and it was interesting that Pinellas County was not ready to jump into the fray and offer to get with the Rays to look at possible sites on this side of the bay. Kind of makes you wonder if the whole baseball thing in Pinellas County is really up to the City of St. Pete.

Tampa was ready and waiting while St. Pete plans to do a series of "studies" to see what is right for the Trop site.

There was a flurry of activity over in Hillsborough County with the Rays calling Tampa, Tampa calling the Rays and the baseball "group" in Tampa ready to meet before the ink was dry on the St. Pete/Rays deal.

Tampa and Rays did not waste any time setting up the first meeting.

Despite Sternberg's impassioned comments in St. Pete City Council about the Bay area and St. Pete, Major League Baseball and the owners want the Rays out of St. Petersburg.

So how do you tell what is really going on.

The Raysometer may tell the story.

In the past, the Rays have cited April and the home opener as the cut off for discussions and negotiations with the City of St. Pete about the Stadium and pretty much anything else. The rational has always been we need to focus on "the game."

If the Rays follow the history and pretty much put negotiations with Hillsborough/Tampa on hold, then it is a pretty safe bet stadium negotiation will follow a rational process.

However, if the red line on the Raysometer continues into the baseball season with negotiations at even a mild pace, then the rules for the Rays Second Season have changed. People over on the Pinellas County side of the Howard Franklin better get it in gear fast if they want to keep the Rays on this side of the bridge.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Disclosures:
Contributor: Carly Fiorina for President, Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Friends of the Investigator and More

Tampa Bay Times columnists Sue Carlton wrote on February 2nd a Times article about who was brought into the Go Hillsborough law enforcement investigation:
Bobby O'Neill, once the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, was brought in by the Sheriff's Office as a consultant in its investigation — a smart move in a case that involves both public trust and actual fact.
This was just after she wrote this on January 26:
Word is that nothing criminal was found in that soon-to-go-public investigation by the Sheriff's Office regarding Go Hillsborough. Expect to see some squirm-worthy moments for elected officials anyway.
Who told Carlton there was "nothing"? Why would she make such a blanket statement without stating why she said it or who told her? What narrative is Carlton attempting to create?

Back in 2013, Carlton's article about O'Neill resigning his position as US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida included this
Mayor Buckhorn considers O'Neill a good friend; they have shared more than a Guinness or two
O'Neill was investigating Buckhorn who was a participant in the entire Go Hillsborough/Parsons Brinckerhoff/Beth Leytham debacle. That set off some curiosity about Bobby O'Neill and we used the Google to find some interesting information.

Apparently there was a brouhaha that occurred in 2010 amongst the 3 finalists for the position of US Attorney for the Middle District. Criticisms of each of the finalists were reported in this article Public Criticism Delays Nomination in Middle District of Florida. We certainly do not know whether any of the claims were true but criticisms of O'Neill included an accusation of an extramarital affair and his ownership of a pub, Four Green Fields, that raised money for the Irish Republican Army political leader Gerry Adams.

We now know that O'Neill co-owns a popular downtown pub, Four Green Fields. Maybe Buckhorn is a regular there where he shares more than a Guinness or two with O'Neill.

Commissioner Hagan has been pursuing his new baseball stadium for years and just recently again proposed using a TIF (tax-increment financing which is taxpayer monies) to help pay for it. That's not a new idea of his since according to this June 2011 Times article

The approach is called tax-increment financing, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan put it center-stage this week as an idea to help the Tampa Bay Rays make a new home somewhere in the county.  
Monday, Buckhorn had drinks at a downtown bar with Hagan and Beth Leytham, a public relations consultant who is friends with both, and the three discussed the idea.
Maybe they were all having a Guinness or two at O'Neill's pub…. (It would be nice if Hagan spent as much time prioritizing our current budget to fund our roads and transportation as he has for the last 5 years pursuing taxpayer funds for a new baseball stadium).

To digress a moment - Buckhorn filed for reelection September 12, 2014, coincidentally at the same time the County was handing Parsons Brinckerhoff their no bid contract to do public engagement with their "communication team of one Beth Leytham in tow". According to this Times report 
In preparing for this campaign, Buckhorn assembled the same team of political operatives he has worked with in the past, some for 25 years: pollster Keith Frederick, direct-mail specialist Jon Coley, television consultant Dane Strother, former aide Siobhan Harley and Tampa public relations consultant Beth Leytham. He sent out his first fundraising email a few hours after filing his paperwork. (emphasis mine)
Buckhorn's Pollster Keith Frederick is the same pollster Leytham engaged, at taxpayer expense, to do polling for Go Hillsborough.

Reviewing Buckhorn's campaign filings at the Supervisor of Elections website, we could not find any expenditure to Leytham or any in-kind donation given by Leytham for the campaign work she did for Buckhorn. How can that be? Is that legal? Shouldn't at least an in-kind donation have been reported for her services and advice?

We know anyone can contribute to any candidate but it is always interesting to see who does. Gleaned from Buckhorn's campaign filings was Sheriff Gee contributed $100 to Buckhorn's campaign on 9/25/2014 right after he filed. Colleen Chappell contributed a total of $1000 individually and her ad agency Chappell-Roberts contributed $1000 to Buckhorn's campaign, again at the same time in 2014 the Parsons/Leytham team was starting the campaign. 

Leytham, who was Parsons subcontractor, brought Chappell-Roberts into the Go Hillsborough effort as a subcontractor of her. Chappell-Roberts registered the GoHillsborough.org website and apparently was managing the website. We note that recently the GoHillsborough.org domain name was transferred to the County who redirected the domain name to the County's Transportation and Economic Development website where there is an archived view of the original campaign website.

We previously posted here about following the circular money trail.


These cozy relationships were feeding off a $1.35 million taxpayer funded Parsons contract for marketing and campaign work to push a sales tax hike referendum that never went through any transparent bid or RFP. To our knowledge, the County never even provided a requirements document which is project management 101.

Back to O'Neill. When he was sworn in according to this post in 2010 he stated
“We have to provide equal justice under the law for everyone,” O’Neill said, according to the Tribune. “That’s the key. That’s what we will strive to do.”
According to this Times article, O'Neill resigned as US Attorney in 2013
O'Neill, 55, a veteran crusader against public corruption who oversees federal prosecutions in a 35-county swath of Florida, will join a risk management company led by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh. 
His tenure in the Middle District dates to 1993 and includes the fall of Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White and Tampa housing chief Steve LaBrake.
At O'Neill's send off party when he resigned as US Attorney in 2013, the Times reported
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said O'Neill was among a handful of true friends, one she calls even now for advice, and — you know this is coming — he's the only man she knows who looks good in a mullet. 
"I love you so much," Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee told O'Neill. "You're such a good friend."
In that same article the Times reported
He [O'Neill] emphasized the importance of knowing when to wield justice. "Some people," he said, "need to be buried under the courthouse, taken away from society and kept there forever."

Others make mistakes.
O'Neill resigned as director of the parent company of the pub, DPI days after he was sworn in as US Attorney in 2010 but it appears he is still a co-owner of the Four Green Fields Pub.

According to this Tribune article last June, O'Neill's pub was one picked by a "special panel" of the Airport Authority. Interesting that three restaurants picked are owned by Richard Gonzmart (Ulele, Goody Goody and Columbia Restaurants). Sorry no Outback or Lee Roy Selmon's got picked.


There were four protests of bid rigging in the bid process that apparently was blessed by TIA's high-salaried CEO Joe Lopano and praised by Commissioner Victor Crist who thought that when you get too big (aka become very successful) you lose your local identity.


A few months after the airport concession award, DPI sold it's 4 adjacent properties to the St. John's Episcopal Church. The properties combined market value, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, at the time of the sale was $911K and they sold all the properties in September 2015 for $3.75 million.



Property          Current HCPA Market Value
RIVERSIDE LOTS 9 AND 10 BLOCK 7$308,385
RIVERSIDE LOT 11 BLOCK 7$151,968
RIVERSIDE LOT 12 BLOCK 7$152,747
RIVERSIDE LOT 14 BLOCK 7$297,850
$910,950 

According to this Tribune article about the sale of the property
St. John’s Episcopal Church, eager to secure expansion prospects for its school, has bought the property that includes the iconic Irish pub Four Green Fields at 205 W. Platt St., according to a letter emailed to the church community Thursday.

Colin Breen, a co-owner of the bar, confirmed the sale. “We have been having conversations over the years about it,” Breen said. “The church was concerned about being boxed in, so we came to an agreement. They now control the land while we stay as a tenant. It’s business as usual.”
DPI took out a 2nd mortgage in August 2015 from Carlyle Investment for $800K after Four Green Fields was awarded their airport concession in June and a month before they sold their current property to St Johns. The outstanding balance on the 1st mortgage was $1.5M. Perhaps the 2nd mortgage was taken out to provide capital for their new location soon coming to the airport.

Let's connect some dots.

Sue Carlton, Times columnist, is married to Times editorial writer John Hill as Creative Loafing reported here.

John Hill is friends with Beth Leytham, who is at the center of the Go Hillsborough investigation. Hill has refused to disclose their close relationship. And Leytham is not shy about leveraging her relationships to get positive editorial spin.

Leytham is very close associate of Mayor Buckhorn and Commissioner Hagan who were voting members of the Policy Leadership Group that helped hand Leytham hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars via the Parsons Brinckerhoff no bid contract. This also occurred while Leytham was Buckhorn's campaign consultant.




Buckhorn, Hagan and Leytham are all close associates and are all part of the Go Hillsborough debacle.

Leytham is Buckhorn's campaign PR consultant but there is no campaign expenditure or in-kind donation reflected in Buckhorn's campaign filings for her work.

Buckhorn is good friends with O'Neill.


O'Neill is co-owner of a restaurant that got an airport concession awarded by the Airport Authority Board that Commissioner Crist sits on.

O'Neill is good friends with Sheriff Gee.


Sheriff Gee contributed to Buckhorn's campaign.

Sue Carlton writes Times articles first insinuating nothing will come from the investigation and then writes that former US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida O'Neill was brought into the investigation.

It's apparent these folks travel in the same circles and therefore are friends. However, there should be no skepticism or lingering questions regarding the investigation outcome.


With no disrespect to HCSO, our question is -  shouldn't an investigation be done by those totally independent of anyone involved in the investigation or who is being investigated?  Should friends be investigating friends? 

There are still questions that Merrill and the commissioners should answer as to why Merrill, over a weekend with no transparency or any public input from the county commissioners, asked the Sheriff to investigate and not FDLE. Remember it was Merrill and Leytham who took the Go Hillsborough campaign totally rogue last August when, as we posted here, they unilaterally with no governing approval decided to bring back the full 1% sales tax hike.

We await the completion of the law enforcement investigation and do not know the extent of it, how broad or how narrow it's focus. However, only a forensic investigation that gets all the text messages from the cell phone providers, gets all the emails and follows the money trail for where every dime of the $1.35 million went, will we ever know the truth.


Regardless of the result of the law enforcement investigation something is not right down at County Center. It's not all just "mistakes".

From the beginning of the Go Hillsborough debacle, we have stated that with all these close, cozy and friendly relationships, some of them wearing numerous hats, the taxpayers must be protected.

But will they?


Update: Looking at the Supervisor of Elections website, we also found:
In June 2010 O'Neill's pub, Four Green Fields, donated $500 (the maximum at that time) to Mayor Buckhorn's campaign.
Go Hillsborough Investigator O'Neill's pub donated to Buckhorn




Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kriseman/Tomalin plan for South St. Pete approved

There are people in St. Pete, who make a lot of money from the area defined by the TIF.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
  
Thursday's St. Pete City Council meeting consideration of the South St. Pete CRA and TIF and the plan to implement them was a high-water mark in the City's long running struggle with south St. Pete. Mayor Rick Kriseman and his team deserve a lot of credit for getting the City to this point.

Not all went smoothly as the President of the local NAACP president spoke against the plan.

You can get a good sense of the plan and the issues in these two articles by Tampa Bay Times writer Charlie Frago:



After an intense debate and agreement to modify, the plan slightly by making more of the funds available for workforce training City Council adopted the plan unanimously.

During the discussion on a number of occasions, speakers referred to the plan as a multi generational change. Current thinking puts a generation at 20 to 25 years.

The plan looks solid, if it works, as it should it would be self-funding through the life of the TIF.

Assuming it takes a generation and a half to affect serious change that is over 30 years. What does the City do in the meantime?

There are serious questions.

Unrest and discontent run deep in South St. Pete.

In the midst of the discussion, the meeting was interrupted by a protest from the UHURUs

See my Post from one year ago The Two Faces off South St. Pete.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch commented that the plan was a good strong foundation and now "it is time to build the house."

If you buy into the general fact, a generation is 20 years, then the current generation is probably the easiest group to get to with the plan's elements.

Can the plan provide training and create jobs for this group more attractive than drug dealing and more acceptable than having babies and living on ADC, food stamps and Welfare programs?

Moreover, not to be overlooked is a group of people who will not want these programs to succeed.

Poverty is big business.

There are people in St. Pete, who make a lot of money from the area defined by the TIF.

The easy ones to pick out are the drug dealers, pimps, gang leaders and the crime lords, but equally egregious are the slumlords, absentee property owners, payday loan operations, social service groups and even some churches that would exploit the very programs meant to break the circle of poverty.

The subset of our society that lives off south St. Pete's poverty is neither small nor powerless.

Plans that plant trees, pave streets and put up streetlights do not bother them much, but plans like Mayor Kriseman's strike at heart of their enterprises.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown said it best when speaking about accountability, "So that people who have their own agenda will not be able to pocket what is really the community's. I have lived here my whole life, and it is no secret what I'm saying."

Ken Welch is right we have the foundation now let's build the house. Everyone in St. Petersburg has a stake in seeing things improve in south St. Pete. The resistance will be subtle at first, perhaps like the comments from the NAACP President, and stronger as the programs begin to roll out and become successful.

Mayor Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Tomalin and the team need to be diligent in their implementation of this plan and not afraid to call out those who would pervert the process.

This plan is a long road. Those starting it will not be the ones that finish it. It is up to the people to stay the course.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Disclosures:
Contributor: Carly Fiorina for President, Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Chamber's Political Cavalry Ponders a Poll With the Wizard of Oz of County Center

Sunday's Tribune reported the Greater Tampa Chamber is "pondering" doing a poll on the sales tax hike referendum. 
The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is considering polling Hillsborough County voters to gauge their appetite for a half-cent sales tax to finance road, trail and transit projects.

The chamber’s money and influence would be crucial in selling the transportation tax to voters if county commissioners put the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot. That support will likely depend on the results of the poll, if there is one.
Start by asking those polled if we should first begin appropriately funding our roads and transportation within our existing tax revenues as we know the county has $123 million of new revenues in 2016, including $40-50 million of new recurring revenues as our county revenues stream continues going up.

Of course poll results are only as relevant as details such as the specific questions asked and the demographics of who is actually polled is known.

Instead of pondering whether to do a poll, the bigger question is will a valid poll officially drive a stake through any proposed sales tax hike? Voters are restless and more upset than ever this election cycle. Putting a sales tax hike wanting billions more on the 2016 ballot going to "placate" them? And yes the billions more is for a plan that includes high cost trains that will benefit few  - again. Deja Vu?

According to the Tribune, the Chamber sent their political cavalry to County Center to help their poll pondering:
The chamber is serious enough about a poll that it sent former Florida Gov. Bob Martinez and former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis to meet with county officials about possible poll questions. 
Martinez and Davis met with County Administrator Mike Merrill and County Attorney Chip Fletcher several weeks ago and brought along a draft of some possible questions, Merrill said.
The Tribune neglected to mention that Martinez and Davis are now lobbyists with Holland and Knight. In 2010 Holland and Knight donated at least $25K to the pro rail PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward and were big supporters of the rail tax. Davis was not just "involved" in the 2010 rail tax referendum, he was a public spokesperson for Moving Hillsborough Forward.

Why did the Chamber send in their political cavalry to meet with unelected bureaucrats if they want to gain insights regarding the transportation policy issue? Merrill and Fletcher are not policy makers and they are not accountable to any voters. Why wasn't the Chamber's political cavalry talking with the actual policy makers, the county commissioners? And what role was County Attorney Fletcher playing in a discussion about a poll?

Martinez and Davis met with the wrong people because on the transportation issue - Merrill is tainted. He is a big problem and a big liability - whether of his own doing or enabled by others. Merrill is a staunch supporter of another huge sales tax hike, is smack in the middle of the crony Go Hillsborough debacle and has been the public and media face throughout the flawed Go Hillsborough campaign. And the law enforcement investigation may be so narrowly focused that we may never know the true extent of the crony mess Merrill helped create.

The Chamber knows how to do polls. There's a good possibility they've already done some polling about Go Hillsborough and a sales tax hike. So what was really going on and what was really being discussed with bureaucrats Merrill and Fletcher?

We are left wondering what the Wizard of Oz of County Center will pull out next from behind his green curtain.

The Tribune article also reports
The results of the sheriff’s investigation are expected to be made public in the next week or so. If the investigation turns up no wrongdoing, Merrill said, he expects the chamber to support whatever transportation plan and financing mechanism county commissioners approve.
“On February 17th or 18th, we will be able to restart the actual decision-making on the plan and the funding so we can be in a position at the end of March to do a sales tax, if that’s the way the board wants to go,” Merrill said.
Merrill speaks for the Chamber? Merrill tells the county commissioners when he wants them to vote on a sales tax hike? How many times has Merrill told the media since last year when a vote on the sales tax hike was coming? Instead it keeps being delayed. Wasn't it Merrill who kept saying a full year was needed to educate persuade voters to support the sales tax hike? Wasn't that the excuse used after the 2010 sales tax was overwhelmingly defeated - "they" simply did not have enough time?

Like Beth Leytham, Merrill is wearing too many hats and playing too many kingmaker roles down at County Center, some of which blatantly overstep his authority as County Administrator. The county commissioners cannot delegate their policy making authority to an unelected bureaucrat and it is illegal for Merrill and other county or city employees to be discussing a private sector advocacy campaign in private group meetings.

Where did the Tribune get this statement?
A main component of the Go Hillsborough plan — mobility fees paid by developers — is the subject of a commission workshop Feb. 4. The fees are meant to capture more of the true costs of increased traffic from new developments.
Mobility fees are not tied to the flawed Go Hillsborough plan or any sales tax hike. Who told Salinero that? We suspect it was a Merrill again. However, we participated in some of the county's focus group meetings regarding mobility fees. Salinero should ask Lucia Garsys, one of Merrill's deputies who has been facilitating the focus group meetings, if mobility fees are tied to Go Hillsborough and a sales tax hike. She told us mobility fees are NOT connected to any proposed sales tax hike. She acknowledged, as many of the county commissioners are well aware of, mobility fees are totally separate from any sales tax hike, as they should be. Otherwise it looks like a quid pro quo with the development community.

Go here to find the Mobility Fee presentation that will be presented to the county commissioners at a Thursday workshop. Nowhere is there any mention of the mobility fee tied to Go Hillsborough or specifically to a sales tax hike.

How many times are the county commissioners going to tolerate County Administrator Mike Merrill, an unelected bureaucrat accountable to no voter, making misleading statements to the media? How much longer are the county commissioners willing to keep him as the tainted face of our transportation issue? They must send Merrill back to doing the job he was hired to do and remove him totally from our transportation issue.

The quote at the end of this article by Chamber President and CEO Bob Rohrlack is a bit disingenuous almost three years after the transportation initiative began.
“The fact that our community as a whole is talking much more about transportation is good,” Rohrlack said. “There is an overwhelming majority that is saying doing nothing is not an option.”
The county spent over $1.3 million on a taxpayer funded marketing campaign for the sales tax hike that resulted in blatant cronyism and a law enforcement investigation. Yes, the community is talking transportation but it's not talking about support for a sales tax hike.

We have been publicly saying "doing nothing is not an option" since the transportation initiative started in 2013.

We have been publicly requesting the county commissioners have a Plan B for a long time.

Where has the Chamber or the rest of the business community publicly been, especially since this crony Go Hillsborough mess? Sitting on the sidelines as we wait and wait and wait while our local roads continue to crumble and deteriorate as nothing gets done. 

If the Chamber is really serious about the "doing nothing is not an option", the Chamber should have sent their political calvary to tell the elected officials - not unelected bureaucrats - time for a serious discussion about a Plan B - no sales tax hike referendum required. The commissioners do not have to reinvent the wheel, they can start the discussion with Murman's proposal. They have all the data they need and they do not need Mike Merrill, more consultants, studies or crony PR firms.

Instead of pondering another poll, it would be refreshing to hear the Chamber publicly request the county commissioners to actually do something and NOW.

Regardless of the outcome of the law enforcement investigation, Go Hillsborough and any proposed sales tax hike has a dark cloud hanging over it. No $2 million advocacy campaign, funded and supported again by special interests or astroturf, can overcome that dark cloud.

There's a good chance a valid poll will reflect little or no appetite for another huge sales tax hike so the Chamber should just do it - do a poll. We then hope they will honestly publicly provide the results and details.

If the county commissioners vote to put a toxic sales tax hike, created by a flawed and crony marketing campaign, on the 2016 ballot, we believe it will most likely fail - and nothing will get done. We all lose.

Then what will the Chamber say?

Sunday, January 31, 2016

TBBJ Falsely Portrays TBX Basher as a "National Transportation Expert"

Friday the Tampa Bay Business Journal (TBBJ) published an article titled National transportation expert blasts TBX as 'boondoggle'. This article is about a recent event 2016 Trends Conference, hosted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), where a Gabe Klein made such a claim.

Two issues with this TBBJ article: Who is Gabe Klein that TBBJ cites as a "national transportation expert"? Where is any evidence to backup his claims?

First of all ULI pitched Klein as an Author and Entrepreneur on their event website, no mention of being a "national transportation expert".
Gave Klein speaks at ULI event 2016 Trends
According to his Wikipedia, Klein has a degree in marketing management and began his career in retail bike sales. Most of his career was spent in marketing and business development. He worked for Zipcar and later as an entrepreneur wrote a couple of business plans for car sharing that was shelved and a mobile food truck that resulted in a company he founded "On the Fly" which eventually shuttered.

Klein turned On the Fly over to his partners when one term DC Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed Klein to lead the District of Columbia Department of Transportation in 2008. Ironically, it was the DC government stymying On the Fly and specifically the DC DOT who kept On The Fly from flourishing by disallowing free-flowing access to the curbside. Klein served as Director of the DC DOT until Fenty's term expired December 31, 2010 when he lost his re-election bid. We'd like to know what Klein's role was in this DC light rail failure that is only 8 miles long, 3 years late and still not open:  DC Streetcar Still Not Open for Business
DDOT stands for District Department of Transportation, not District Department of Economic Development. Yet instead of providing transit systems that will cost-effectively transport large numbers of people, DDOT and other cities and transit agencies across the country are building urban monuments that will supposedly promote economic development. 
The economic development argument is itself a hoax and merely a way to justify spending more money moving fewer people. DC’s H Street has already gentrified, and the businesses on the street would be perfectly happy if there were no streetcar bashing their customer’s automobiles.
Subsequently, in May 2011, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel appointed Klein to be Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT).

DC and Chicago are not model cities for good governance.

According to this interview right after Klein was appointed to the CDOT, he was asked
Are you interested in reducing the number of cars in Chicago and, if so, how? 
I absolutely support reducing the zoning requirements for parking at new construction. I think we should have a maximum and no minimum. But to reduce the number of cars, the best thing we can do is give people other transportation options. Driving a car is not inherently bad. Driving a car by yourself, for everything you do, is.
Klein is certainly a political appointee with a background of being appointed to the Chicago and DC DOT's. However, prior to his political appointments, his career was mainly in marketing and business development. He's adept at using social media to advance his agenda. His own website gabeklein.com provides his own bio, blog and more.

Klein's recent book Start-Up City coins the term "public entrepreneurship"
In Start-Up City, Klein, with David Vega-Barachowitz, demonstrates how to affect big, directional change in cities—and how to do it fast. Klein's objective is to inspire what he calls “public entrepreneurship,” a start-up-pace energy within the public sector, brought about by leveraging the immense resources at its disposal. 
Does "public entrepreneurship" mean the government should use public money like Venture Capital does on perhaps risky investments? Especially as we keep witnessing government not doing the basics - their primary responsibilities so well.

At least Klein admits the government has become so vast and burdensome that it does have "immense resources at its disposal".  Yes - we have witnessed the use of some of those immense resources spent on wasteful projects, crony projects, pork barrel projects and used to subsidize the wealthy.

Klein was Commissioner of the CDOT for less than two years until December 2013 when Emmanuel appointed Rebekah Schenfield, who has a BA in Urban Studies and an MBA, to replace Klein. Klein then worked for the Urban Land Institute for 6 months as a Senior Visiting Fellow traveling the country speaking at ULI events like the one in Tampa - where he is now touting his new book.

Klein now works for Fontinalis Partners, a Venture Capital company that invests in technology companies with an ability to significantly improve mobility.

Klein recently spoke in Miami on January 13 about his new book at an event hosted by the Knight Foundation. According to this report Klein stated in Miami
Every street should be built as a complete street.” 
The lesser use of cars, especially single-use, offers “this incredible possibility of getting rid of 80 percent of all our parking spaces,” he said. “The new Whole Foods with a giant garage on top could be a Whole Foods store with 10 levels of housing and offices instead. Developers in cities that have high-value real estate are already realizing this.”
Complete streets are the most expensive streets that can be built. No wonder Klein did not put a price tag to that statement.

Is getting rid of 80% of all parking spaces realistic? Perhaps Klein actually should talk to real people who are negatively impacted by such an agenda….like right here on Harbour Island, as the Tribune recently reported, where residents filed a lawsuit over an apartment tower being built with no parking spaces creating a huge parking space shortage.

Back to the TBBJ article where Klein makes this blanket statement about FDOT's TBX project being the "worst project" he's seen traveling around the country.
Klein said the expanded interstate will do nothing to relieve congestion or increase the density that business and political leaders have been working to build in Tampa's urban core.
If you build lanes, you will fill it. And if you build light rail, you'll fill light rail. And if you build bike lanes, you'll fill them," he said. It takes time, particularly in a car culture, but if you never make the change, you'll be stuck holding the bag, and people aren't going to want to live here."
It's obvious from such statements that Klein knows little about Florida or the Tampa Bay area. While Hillsborough County population may grow by 600K by 2040, most are not going to move here to live in small, costly apartment towers in downtown Tampa with no parking. The fastest growing part of Hillsborough is not in the Mayor of downtown only Buckhorn's urban core. The booming growth is in South County while South Pasco and even further north continues it's growth as well. How many of those commuters and tourists will individually decide (no coercion required) to pay the TBX toll that will benefit others, including those in Hillsborough County, who individually decide not to?

What high cost light rail systems have relieved congestion? Taxpayers pick up 80% of the operating costs for light rail used by 2-5% of the population. For someone who is entrepreneurial, why doesn't Klein support user pays, which is the fairest to everyone? Why does he support highly subsidized light rail that benefits the affluent at the expense of the low income who depend on the bus service?

Perhaps Klein missed these recent articles from the LA Times and Bloomberg. Maybe his talking points need updating.
Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California
Cars Are Still Beating Public Transit

As far as building light rail, you will fill light rail. Where is the data to support such a claim? We rode light rail in Denver and Austin mid morning during the week and the trains were almost totally empty while the nearby interstate was packed. Guess Klein hasn't seen the bankrupted Tampa streetcar. How often is that filled?

If you build bike lanes, you'll fill them. Florida, Hillsborough County and Tampa is striping bike lanes everywhere and virtually no one rides on them. So much for the Urbanists "induced demand" theory….they use selectively against TBX, of course.

We previously posted about Complete Streets and the reality of all the bike paths that stand empty: Nearly Complete Streets tour.

Did Klein miss that Tampa Bay has already soundly rejected higher sales taxes for high cost light rail twice?

Klein tells the ULI audience, "Places like Tampa can be successful, but you've gotta spend your money on something other than a freeway". What a false narrative - Tampa is only going to be successful when they spend billions on a light rail system that would benefit so few, mostly the affluent or more bike lanes that no one uses.

The Veterans Expressway and Suncoast Parkway are so successful they are currently being expanded. Does he think those additional toll lanes are boondoggles too? What about the 100 plus miles of toll lanes in Central Florida that are so successful some have proposed robbing their toll monies to pay for the hemorrhaging SunRail. Even the I-4 Ultimate toll lane construction in Orlando is not enticing people to use SunRail.

Certainly TBBJ would have reported if Klein had provided any clear evidence or data analysis to support his claims…. No one in the audience asked any questions? Apparently, there was no evidence to report making the TBBJ article look more like a propaganda piece with a provocative title but no substance. Why didn't TBBJ ask Klein any questions? There are certainly plenty that could have been asked. Hit pieces like this article is why our local media has little or perhaps no credibility regarding our transportation issue.

We do not know Gabe Klein and have nothing against him personally but let's get real -  "transportation experts" do not throw out rhetorical claims and provide no evidence to back them up. Maybe he was simply singing to the usual Urban Land Institute Progressive choir or maybe that's how things are done in DC and Chicago - just say something and it must be true - no questions asked.

Here at the Eye we call such blanket rhetorical claims nonsense.

Klein is an entrepreneur, an author, a venture capitalist, a marketeer, was a political appointee for less than 4 years and he wants to sell his book.

But a national transportation expert? Not!

PSTA Board thumbs their nose at Sunshine Law Violation

Darden Rice should have PSTA's reputation and credibility at the forefront of her decision-making.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
  
At Wednesday's PSTA Board meeting the Board had the opportunity to clear up any possible hint of wrongdoing by electing a new Board Chairperson.


Simple answer: YES

Following a bit of convoluted logic by the PSTA legal counsel, the PSTA Board first voted unanimously to rescind the original vote removing Darden Rice from the Chairperson's position and then by and 8 to 7 vote the Board voted Rice back in as PSTA Chair.

Confused?

Me too.

I am not sure how admitting there was a violation of the Government in the Sunshine Act by Ms. Rice and Ms. Johnson, then voting to rescind the vote that elected Ms. Rice, effectively removing her from the Chair role resolves the Sunshine Law violation question.

Even more perplexing was why the PSTA Nominating Committee put Darden Rice up for the Chairperson role the second time. Apparently, they have no view of or respect for Government in the Sunshine.

Then following a rambling discussion where Ms. Bujalski, Mayor of Dunedin and long time PSTA Board member, and current PSTA Vice Chair was nominated for the Chair from the dais the Board in a split vote elected Ms. Rice back into the chair position.

Here is how the PSTA Board Members voted.

For Rice
Samantha Fenger
Patricia Johnson
Ken Welch
Darden Rice
Janet Long
Mark Deighton
Ben Diamond
Lisa Wheeler-Brown

For Bujalski
Pat Gerard
Doug Bevis
Joseph Barkley
Bill Jonson
Julie Bujalski
Brian Scott
Dave Eggers

Darden Rice could have avoided all of this. The person who brought the Legal action regarding the Sunshine Law violation spoke before the Board and indicated twice he would not challenge Darden Rice serving as the vice chair.

All Rice had to do was remove herself from consideration as Chairperson and wait one year to become PSTA Chairperson.

Darden is a lot more about Darden than her flowing eloquence would leave one to believe.

Rice continues to enhance her reputation as a political opportunist since the issue of where she actually lived arose in the St. Pete City Council election, followed by a strong hint of running for the US House shortly after election to St. Pete City Council.

Now the PSTA has a split Board led by a Chairperson who still at the best sits under a cloud of an ethics violation and a CEO with a very checkered past. See my Post: PSTA CEO Continues to Hang on to His Job.

If Darden Rice is really all about public transportation in Pinellas County, then she should have PSTA's reputation and credibility at the forefront of her decision-making. That is obviously not the case.

E-mail Doc at mail to: dr.gwebb@yahoo.com or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.
Disclosures:
Contributor: Carly Fiorina for President, Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff