Saturday, November 18, 2017

Incompetence and Deception With Trying to Sue Their Constituents

As reported by WTSP and Florida Politics, Hillsborough county commissioners chillingly voted 4-3 on Commissioner Hagan's request at the November 15, 2017 BOCC meeting to use taxpayer money to seek reimbursement from those who filed ethics complaints against Hagan. 

There may be some issues and definitely some questions with what exactly the commissioners were approving regarding Agenda item A-69. 
Hagan inserted his retribution agenda item
on the Consent Agenda
(Click to enlarge)
The Eye has obtained a copy of a recent email sent to all Hillsborough county commissioners and the county attorney from citizen activist Tom Rask.

The entire email with its attachments can be found here.

An excerpt of this email is below:
To: Hillsborough County Commission 
Cc: County attorney Chip Fletcher, General Counsel Mary Helen Farris 
Bcc: interested citizens
The write-up for last week's agenda item A-69 says that "three ethics complaints were filed against Commissioner Hagan." This claim that there were three (3) is factually incorrect. There were in fact four complaints, not three [1]. 
Out of this misstatement of fact arises the critical question: which three complainants out of the four did the BoCC authorize to seek to recover costs and attorney fees from? No one is named in the write-up, and comm. Hagan only named George Niemann in his verbal remarks [2]. 
It is thus impossible to determine exactly who the BoCC authorized action to be taken against.

Therefore, the item must be brought before the commission again, and either voted on again or simply voided.
1] Having made a public records request for those complaints from the Florida Commission on Ethics after your vote, I attach those four complaints for your convenience. I have also attached the final public report in which those four complaints are specifically referenced by their tracking numbers.

[2] Comm. Hagan's added to the confusion by verbally stating the following during the board's discussion before the vote:

"Now that its been shown that the genesis of this current complaint was less than honorable, the Complainant should make the county taxpayers whole". 

Note that comm. Hagan spoke in the singular, not the plural. Hagan was speaking of George Neimann. But who else did Hagan want to seek redress against? He did not say.
As always, thank you for your time. 
Tom Rask
Hagan deceptively inserted his retribution request in the Consent Agenda of the November 15, 2017 BOCC meeting trying to ensure there would be no public discussion. Hagan did not even attach copies of the complaints to the agenda item as background information for the commissioners.

Thanks to Commissioner White who pulled Agenda item A-69 from the Consent Agenda to force discussion and to vote separately.

The Consent Agenda is supposed to be used for approval of regular or routine issues that come before the board, or matters where no debate is anticipated. Consent Agenda's are an efficiency tool to be used for non-controversial routine items that can be approved with one action, instead of separately filed motions for each item.

Hagan's request was not routine and certainly not without controversy. This item obviously did not belong on the Consent Agenda. But it does add fuel to our criticism that the Consent Agenda is being abused to ram thru non-routine items that should be transparently discussed and voted on separately.

All four complainants names were in the media reporting of the commission vote. 

The commissioners must answer the question what specifically they thought they were approving and who were they pursuing. Is Hagan and his commission colleagues pursuing reimbursements from 3 complainants, 4 complainants or just one complainant?

Yet another mess down at County Center.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

County Commission Candidates Haselden and Paradies Hold Fund Raisers Next Week

Voters in Tampa Bay take note! Fundraisers are scheduled next week for two new candidates running for county commission seats in Tampa Bay. 

On Saturday, November 11th, a fundraiser for Barbara Haselden, Candidate for Pinellas County Commission, District 6, is being held at the home of John and Betsi Burgess from 5:30-7:30pm.  Invite with the logistics and to RSVP is found here.
Fundraiser for Barb Haseldon November 11, 2017
at Burgess home
Barb Haselden is a successful businesswoman and a champion for the taxpayer who led the successful No Tax For Tracks Pinellas campaign that saved Pinellas taxpayers at least $2 Billion. Haselden promises to pursue getting term limits on the ballot again. Term limits were passed in Pinellas County by 73% in 1996 but got tied up in legal technicalities and they were never implemented. Haselden's campaign website is found here to find more information and to hit her donate button. 

On Wednesday, November 15, a fundraiser for Chris Paradies, Candidate for Hillsborough County Commission, District 2, is being held at the Northdale Country Club from 5:30-7:30pm. Invite is below.
Fundraiser for Chris Paradies November 15, 2017
at Northdale Country Club
Chris Paradies is a West Point graduate who has a PHD and a law degree. He is a small business owner and practices intellectual property law. Paradies states he will fight for the forgotten taxpayer, implement cost savings and bring innovation to County Center. Paradies supports term limits and believes those limits should be respected. Paradies's campaign website is here to find more information and to his donate button

Both candidates are working to get on the ballot by petition. Help them out. Take the opportunities to meet these two new candidates, sign their petition and donate to their campaigns.

Time is ripe for a breath of fresh air for voters in Hillsborough and Pinellas to have real alternatives to the status quo.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Another County Mess: Taxation Without Representation

The Hillsborough county commission has created another mess. 

They continue to waive one of their own policies that has no waiver provision provided in it. In addition, the commissioners ignored the intentions of a Charter that created an independent special taxing district.

Why? Because they or someone(s) wants control of that taxing entity. The timing is not coincidental since it relates to the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART).

What the commissioners have done as a result of their recent HART Board appointments is disenfranchise HART's property taxpayers who reside in  unincorporated Hillsborough.

First, the background information.

Independent special districts have limited explicit - not implied - authority specified in its charter. 

Statutes, charters and policies provide the requirements, criteria and governance for establishing Boards, Committees, Authorities, Councils or Agencies and who may get appointed to them. In the interest of fairness, proportional and equitable representation is often a requirement, especially if the Board will be providing governance and oversight of a taxing authority.

Florida Statute 163.567 enabled the creation HART by allowing a home rule Charter to establish the transit agency. HART was founded in 1980 by a local Charter approved in 1979 by the county commission of Hillsborough and the city council of Tampa. 

HART's Charter defines a HART Member as "the unincorporated areas of a county or the incorporated areas of a municipality if such county or municipality has been admitted to membership the Authority.." 

HART's Charter states each HART member shall appoint one Director plus one additional Director for each 150,000 persons, or major fraction thereof, resident in that member's jurisdictional limits. In addition to those Board members, the Governor of Florida shall appoint two Directors.

HART's Charter specifies they are a special taxing district and may levy an ad valorem (property) tax not to exceed one half mill ($.0005) on taxable property within the jurisdictional limits of its members. Current jurisdictional members of HART include city of Tampa, city of Temple Terrace and unincorporated Hillsborough County. Plant City is not a member of HART and Plant City residents do not pay HART's property tax. 

To abide by the Charter's intent of ensuring equitable and proportional representation on the HART Board who oversees this taxing authority, Hillsborough County has a policy that appointees to the HART Board by the Hillsborough County commissioners MUST reside in unincorporated. From the county's website regarding HART Board applicants (emphasis mine):
Citizens appointed to this board must reside in the unincorporated area of Hillsborough County. 
In addition, according to Board of County Commissioners BOCC POLICY - SECTION NUMBER 0 1 . 3 0 . 0 0 . 0 0 for Appointing and/or Confirming Nominations of Citizens, Agency/Government Body Representatives, or Staff to any Board, Council, Committee and Authority (emphasis mine):
..applicants for certain boards/councils undergo background checks and/or be residents of the unincorporated area of Hillsborough County. All applicants must be residents of the state of Florida. 
In an effort to have boards/councils that include citizens who represent the entire county, the BOCC shall largely consider race, gender, and those citizens who actively participate in the community when making appointments and/or confirming nominations. Unless specifically approved by the Board of County Commissioners, no citizen may serve on more than one committee at a time
If an applicant does not meet the relevant requirements the application shall be rejected.  
Residency for appointment/confirmation applicants. The Board of County Commissioners has not established a general residency requirement for all board, council, committee, and/or authority appointments. However, citizens seeking appointments to the following boards councils, committees, or authorities shall reside in the unincorporated area of Hillsborough County.
  • Code Enforcement Board 
  • Code Enforcement Special Magistrate  
  • Cross Connection, Backflow & Back-Siphonage Control Board  
  • Enterprise Zone Development Agency 11 
  • Hillsborough County City-County Planning Commission 
  • Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority  
  • Historic Resources Review Board  
  • Land Use Appeals Board  
  • Nuisance Abatement Board – at least five (5) members 
  • Tampa Sports Authority * 
  • Water Conservation Technical Advisory Committee  
*Unincorporated residency requirements for the Tampa Sports Authority only may specifically be waived by the Board of County Commissioners (see Waiver Procedure below).  
ARTICLE V. WAIVER PROCEDURE The notice of a vacant position for the Tampa Sports Authority shall include a statement informing the public that the Board of County Commissioners has the authority to waive its unincorporated residency requirement, that, notwithstanding residency status, all citizens may apply; and that all names shall be presented to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration. The Boards and Councils Coordinator shall list all names on the ballot and identify those persons who met the residency requirement and those who did not.
Note: there is only a residency waiver procedure for appointments to the Tampa Sports Authority. 

Since 2012, based on population, there are thirteen HART Board members, appointed as follows:
  • City of Temple Terrace - 1
  • City of Tampa - 3
  • Unincorporated Hillsborough - 7
  • Gubernatorial - 2
Now let's review the unincorporated Hillsborough appointments made by the county commissioners since 2012.

The make up of the 7 HART Board members representing unincorporated in 2012 included 3 electeds, Beckner (lived in unincorporated), Murman and Sharpe (both lived in city of Tampa), and 4 citizen appointees Wallace Bowers, Karen Jaroch, Ann Madden and Steve Polzin who all lived in unincorporated Hillsborough.

Then along came the county's Policy Leadership Group (PLG) transportation initiative in 2014 led by the unelected County Mayor Mike Merrill.

Everything that is done down at County Center is in context.... 

About the same time that Ann Madden resigned from HART on June 16, 2014, Merrill was proposing a hostile takeover of HART by all electeds and creating some transportation super agency - see our post here. 

The commissioners never sought a citizen appointee to replace Madden, who lived in unincorporated and resigned June 16, 2014. 

Instead they sneakily used a July 31, 2014 Budget Workshop meeting, where public comment is not normally allowed and actions are not supposed to be taken, to appoint Madden's replacement on HART. That agenda item was added at the last minute to a meeting that had been publicly noticed as a Workshop.

This action occurred coincidentally right before the county handed Parsons Brinckerhoff their crony contract to launch the Go Hillsborough tax hike campaign.

The Eye reported about the county commissioners shenanigans on July 31, 2014 in this post Sneaking in Les:
There was an interesting non-budget item added to the Budget Reconciliation agenda, not on the original agenda, created by Commission Chair Mark Sharpe or County Administrator Mike Merrill, to fill an open seat on the HART Board. A BOCC citizen appointee to the HART Board, Anne Madden, resigned on June 16, and the Board needed to approve a new appointee. 
They have 20 days to fill vacancies accord to the law
There have been 2 BOCC meetings since Maddens' resignation. 
45 days is my count. Reading through the statute above, can the Commission even make a legal appointment now? 
Yet they waited for a Budget Reconciliation workshop to take up filling a HART Board vacancy? 
They did not follow the law.
And they even knew they weren't following the rules because the workshop agenda noted they were supposed to have filled the vacancy within 20 days of the resignation.
July 31, 2014 Budget Workshop improperly used for
HART Board appointment (click to enlarge)
In perfect orchestration at that workshop, Sandy Murman nominated Les Miller and Kevin Beckner seconded her nomination. The commissioners voted 5-1 to appoint Miller, who lives in the city of Tampa, to replace Madden, who lived in unincorporated south county. Higginbotham was absent and Crist voted no. 

Appointing Commissioner Miller to the HART Board changed the balance of the HART board. It tilted it toward more county electeds and more Board members who live in the city of Tampa. 

As of 8/1/2014, the 7 HART Board members representing unincorporated consisted of 4 electeds (Beckner, Miller, Murman, Sharpe) with only Beckner living in unincorporated Hillsborough and 3 citizens (Jaroch, Polzin, Bowers) who all lived in unincorporated. 

What happened next?

The three citizen appointees terms were expiring in November 2014. In October 2014, 17 applicants had submitted applications for a county appointment to HART Board. All three citizen appointees (Bowers, Jaroch, Polzin) applied to be reappointed. Steve Polzin is our local transit expert who works at CUTRour own transportation think tank at USF.

Having a transit expert on HART Board makes total common sense. And Polzin lives in unincorporated Lutz, satisfying the residency requirement.

Apparently not to the county commissioners. There were some political games to play. This appointment was occurring during the PLG transportation effort when Parsons Brinckerhoff had just been awarded their crony contract to kick off Go Hillsborough. 

Find all 17 HART Board applications here. A note below was included in the board packet of HART Board applicants stating that the BOCC can simply waive the residency requirement with their vote, without any discussion or a motion passed to do so. 

The commissioner's own BOCC policy provides for a residency waiver only for Tampa Sports Authority appointments. When did the commissioners approve changing their policy to waive residency requirements for HART appointments? Or does Mike Merrill and the commissioners just make stuff up to fit an agenda?

According to the transcript of the October 15 BOCC meeting, there was no motion or discussion to waive their own policy. The commissioners just voted.
They reappointed Jaroch and Bowers, who lived in unincorporated and appointed Mickey Jacobs, who lives on Harbour Island in the city of Tampa. 

Jacobs is an architect who is a member of the Downtown Partnership and Tampa Chamber. According to this October 16, 2014 Times article 
Jacob's experience as an architect made him a favorable option because of his focus on economic development, a key issue for the area.
The county commissioners tossed Steve Polzin off HART who was the only transit expert on the transit authority board for someone who's focus is economic development. 

By October 2014 the HART Board tilted more towards members who lived in the city of Tampa. Only 3 of the 7 county appointed HART Board members lived in unincorporated. 

Subsequently Commissioner Sharpe was term limited and Stacy White elected in November 2014. White, who lives in unincorporated, replaced Sharpe on HART Board.

Then in November 2016 Beckner was term limited and Pat Kemp was elected. Kemp who lives in the city of Tampa replaced Beckner (who lived in unincorporated) on HART. 

What happened next?

The three citizen appointees terms were expiring in November 2017. Two of the three county citizen appointees, Jaroch and Bowers who both live in unincorporated, reapplied and Mickey Jacobs, who lived in the city of Tampa, did not reapply. 

The county received only 7 applications which can be found here. Again there is a note in the Board packet that the commissioners can simply waive their own residency requirement. 
Note to commissioners regarding residency requirement
for HART Board appointees
The commissioners actions were perfectly orchestrated again at the October 18, 2017 BOCC meeting. When the appointee agenda item came up, Commissioner Miller immediately made a motion to waive the residency requirement and Commissioner Murman seconded the motion. The motion passed 7-0. 

This go round the commissioners formally passed a motion instead of just voting as they did in 2014. But there was no discussion about the motion - it just passed unanimously 7-0. 

The HART Board appointee vote then proceeded as follows:
  • White chose Karen Jaroch, Marvin Knight, David Mechanik
  • Murman chose Adam Harden, Marvin Knight, David Mechanik.  
  • Miller chose Wallace Bowers, Marvin Knight, David Mechanik
  • Crist chose Wallace Bowers, Karen Jaroch, David Mechanik
  • Hagan chose Adam Harden, Marvin Knight, David Mechanick
  • Kemp chose Adam Harden, Marvin Knight, David Mechanik
  • Higginbotham chose Adam Harden, Karen Jaroch, David Mechanik
Murman prefaced her vote by some carefully worded mumbo jumbo about the two current board members being on the board quite a while and she wanted to rotate her appointments. Wallace Bowers had been on the board for about 18 years but Karen Jaroch had served for 6 years, less time than Sandy. 

Jaroch was the only county citizen appointee that was a woman and Murman tossed her off to vote for 3 males. We found this Times article highlighted on Murman's campaign website about her efforts to help women get appointed to committees and boards and that women should be helping each other.

That was 2014. Do those statements still mean anything or just more mumbo jumbo? 

Ironically, David Mechanik already had served as a city of Tampa HART Board appointee for 16 years between 1994 and 2011 - so much for worrying about being on the HART Board for "quite a while".....And Mechanik, who all 7 commissioners voted for, was on HART Board when HART gave us the Alternatives Analysis for the 2010 rail tax that was overwhelmingly defeated.

Three males, including Adam Harden and David Mechanik, who both live in the city of Tampa, and Marvin Knight, who lives in unincorporated were appointed to the HART Board October 18th. The county commissioners tossed Bowers and Jaroch, who live in unincorporated and abide by the residency requirements, off of HART Board. They were replaced by 2 appointees who live in the city of Tampa. 

According to the University of Florida BEBR, about 50% of Hillsborough county's population is female. The only county citizen appointee who was a woman and officially qualified, according to county policy and the Charter by living in unincorporated, was not reappointed. No woman was appointed by the county.

The commissioners could have delayed their HART Board appointments if they had wanted more applicants. They did not and that is telling. 

How did their actions impact the representation of the governing board of this independent special taxing district?

Five of the 7 (over 71%) of the HART Board members appointed to represent HART's unincorporated jurisdiction reside in the city of Tampa. An overwhelming majority, 10 of 13 or 77% of all the HART Board members reside in the municipalities of Tampa and one member from Temple Terrace. That leaves 3 of 13 or 23% of the Board members who reside in unincorporated.

Over 2/3 (67%) of the total population of Hillsborough county resides in unincorporated and about 2/3 of the property taxes paid to HART comes from unincorporated and the city of Tampa receives most of HART's services. 

The issue is the HART Board is totally upside down now with regards to who is paying the vast majority of HART's taxes and the overwhelmingly majority of HART Board members governing HART who reside in city of Tampa. 

HART's Charter clearly defines HART members as unincorporated OR incorporated municipalities that have been admitted. We are not lawyers but the use of the word "or" represents alternatives (apples or pears) when separating nouns. "Or" is used for exclusiveness because unincorporated Hillsborough or an incorporated municipality could withdraw as a member of HART. 

HART's financial documents, as seen in their 2016 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) includes the following:
It [HART] was originally chartered for the purpose of providing mass transit service to two charter members, the City of Tampa and the unincorporated areas of Hillsborough County
The commissioners have created another mess. Their own policy that requires HART Board appointments must live in unincorporated has no waiver provision. They just made it up. Merrill used the waiver procedure that county policy states is only for Tampa Sports Authority appointments on the board packet for the HART Board appointments.

It's never a good idea to simply waive policies without any discussion of the ramifications. Policies are put in place for a reason, especially policies affecting a governing board of an independent special taxing district created by a governing Charter.

Did the commissioners also violate HART's Charter? That is a legal question that should be answered. 

Is a remedy needed? Does anyone have standing to sue the county?

At the very least, taxpayers in unincorporated should put a microscope on HART and watch their every action.

This mess smells. The timing is not a coincidence. We can certainly speculate why some politicos want to stack HART Board with those who reside in the city of Tampa at the same time numerous transit initiatives are underway in Tampa Bay. Special interests....

This time the commissioners created an issue of taxation without proportional and equitable representation. Their actions have disenfranchised the vast majority of HART's property taxpayers who reside in unincorporated Hillsborough. 

No wonder there is little or no trust left with County Center.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Taxpayers, Transit Campaigns, TBARTA and Special Interests - Oh My!

Special interests wanted to ensure a regional transit entity would be tied to the $1.5 million regional premium transit campaign that began last year. Senator Latvala obliged by using his powerful position as Senate Appropriations Chair to ram thru legislation this year creating an unnecessary 5 county regional transit agency TBARTA (Tampa Bay Area Regional TRANSIT Agency).

Taxpayers in Tampa Bay should be on the watch for what is coming next.


Because the bill that created TBARTA did not fund it or provide for any funding mechanism for this new transit agency. 

But it did provide a way for games to be played. The half-baked bill enabled the legislative analysis to disingenuously state: "The bill does not appear to have a significant fiscal impact on state or local government".

What? Google regional transit entities to find out how "significant" a fiscal impact they actually have on state and local governments. Google Tri-Rail and SunRail. The analysis left off an important word at the end "yet".

Hold on to your wallets because funding TBARTA is a multi-year effort. According to this May 4 Times article
The Tampa Bay Partnership, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft all lobbied for the [TBARTA] bill, which is the first of several steps the local business community has planned to address regional transit issues.
"This just scratches the surface," said Tampa Bay Partnership president Rick Homans. "There's a lot more to be done."

There is already talk of putting together legislation for next year that would address how to fund TBARTA, which currently does not have a budget or taxing authority that would allow it to build or operate any future transit projects.

The repurposing of TBARTA over the next year or two coincides with an ongoing regional transit study that the Florida Department of Transportation paid for to identify whether rail, express bus or other types of transit will work in Tampa Bay. That study is expected to wrap-up next year, by which time Homans and others are hoping the reshaped TBARTA will be in place to oversee the development of any resulting regional projects.
It's no coincidence. Repurposing TBARTA is directly tied to the current transit campaigns and FDOT's Tampa Bay Next initiative. We suspect the special interests helped orchestrate them too.

The special interests led by the Tampa Bay Partnership kept losing at the local level so they took their transit agenda to Tallahassee. That makes it much more difficult, basically impossible, for local citizens to engage, weigh in or even keep up with all the political machinations going on in Tallahassee. Joe and Jane citizen taxpayer do not have the ability much less the access and influence to continuously roam the halls of Tallahassee during session.

On July 14, 2017, ironically the same day Jeff Vinik announced he helped to financially bail out the Tampa Bay Times, the Times published Jeff Vinik: Politicians are holding back Tampa Bay's transit future 
Jeff Vinik said Friday that it's local politicians, not the business community, who are holding Tampa Bay back when it comes to transit. 
It's up to the business community and the public to help politicians understand how critical an issue transit is for Tampa Bay, Vinik said.
Vinik on Friday announced that he belongs to a group of local investors who loaned $12 million to the Times as part of its refinancing.
That sounds quite different from the December 2014 interview with CNN Money  when Vinik, who moved from Boston to Tampa, said this:
"The quality of life down here is absolutely fantastic," he says. "How nice it is to live in good weather and live in an area without too much traffic," 
We can only speculate......Vinik is now on the Board of the Tampa Bay Partnership, a special interest organization who has been the largest supporter of tax hikes for transit boondoggles in Tampa Bay. He is now financially propping up the Tampa Bay Times who is probably the second largest supporter of tax hikes for transit boondoggles in Tampa Bay. 

To rehash reality - four transit tax hike referendums in Tampa Bay since 2010 (Hillsborough, Pinellas and two in Polk County) were overwhelmingly defeated by voters. There were county commissioners in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties who roamed all over the county as public champions for the tax hikes. Local politicians are not the problem. Continuing to push huge tax hikes for costly and unnecessary transit projects with basic math problems is the problem.

Several TBARTA board members and it's Executive Director Ray Chiarmonte met last week with Senator Galvano at his Manatee office. The TBARTA board members who attended were the Chair, Jim Holton, Policy Committee Chair Melanie Griffin and Board member Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac.

The Eye attended. As we speculated the meeting was about money. TBARTA has a funding issue because the half-baked TBARTA bill passed and Governor Scott veto'd their $250K appropriation. The key request was TBARTA asking the state next year for a million dollars of operating money to "achieve their goals".

While the goals were not all specified, TBARTA is statutorily required to produce a regional transit development plan (TDP). They need money to do that as a result of the half-baked bill.  

TBARTA Board members told Galvano that the Tampa Bay Partnershp and their group were identified as the "stakeholders" who are all lined up in support. [There was no mention of taxpayers lined up to support - they must not be considered "stakeholders".]

TBARTA will be asking for policy changes, not just the million dollars of operational funding. It's the policy changes that taxpayers should watch closely.

Chiarmonte told Galvano that TBARTA will be the recipient at the end of 2018 of the recommended project(s) resulting from Jacobs Engineering taxpayer funded $1.5 million Regional Premium Transit Campaign. 

But here we go again. TBARTA is asking for a million dollars from the state to produce a regional transit development plan at the same time FDOT handed $1.5 million to Jacobs Engineering to create a "Regional Transit Feasibility Plan". 

Who's on First? Who's minding the taxpayer till?

How many times will taxpayers pay to duplicate work over and over and over again? A million bucks here and a million bucks there.  

Since TBARTA has little staff, they will hire a consultant to create their TDP.  Perhaps Jacobs, who proposed Greenlight Pinellas and was a subcontractor on Go Hillsborough - will be recycled through again......they keep throwing out the same thing.....Here's the latest from their regional transit campaign. Surprise! Rail, rail and more outdated costly rail!  
Jacobs Engineering transit campaign top transit projects
Taxpayers are paying $1.6 million to do another study about expanding the nearly bankrupted Tampa Streetcar. It's only the third Streetcar study since 2014. [A streetcar  along Florida Avenue in downtown - where's the traffic impact analysis?]

But the timing of this round of taxpayer funded transit campaigns could not be worse as traditional transit is being disrupted with new technology and ridership is tanking.

The transit campaigns, no matter how untimely, had to be orchestrated. They enabled the special interests to demand a new regional transit authority be created conveniently an arms length away from local voters and taxpayers. Taking away local control empowers special interests to advance their regional agenda. According to the Tampa Bay Partnership's Regional Policy Agenda (emphasis mine):
Just as the Tampa Bay Partnership played a key role in passing legislation to repurpose TBARTA, we intend to monitor and influence its actions going forward.In the immediate future, TBARTA will require:
• a strong governing board with private and public sector advocates for regional transit;• a recurring source of funding to support the ongoing operation of regional transit service;• and the implementation of additional statutory reforms, as necessary, to further refine the organizational structure and its authority over regional transit planning.
Yep - Tampa Bay Partnership is "the stakeholder" of influence over TBARTA.

Taxpayers beware! 

Since no funding exists today for TBARTA or any proposed new transit projects, a new revenue source would have to be found to proceed. That is why it is important to watch for policy changes for how TBARTA would be funded long term. Of course, watch for more rounds of transit tax hike referendums in 2020.

South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) and TBARTA are the only regional transportation entities that are TRANSIT ONLY transportation entities created by Florida Statute 343 Regional Transportation. Each county served by SFRTA and the State of Florida must ante up money to SFRTA every year.

How has that worked out in South Florida?

After South Florida has spent billions on transit, the Sun Sentinel reported in April:
Planners may be pushing for more buses and trains, but South Florida’s commuters are no longer on board.

Even as the region’s traffic congestion worsens, significantly fewer people are taking public transportation. The reasons include lower gas prices, new ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft, and an improved economy that makes it easier to afford car payments, insurance and parking costs.

The ridership decline is not what planners anticipated when they began supporting dense, high-rise housing projects. And future technology, such as riderless cars, may pull away even more commuters. 
Greg Stuart, executive director of the organization that coordinates transportation projects in Broward, said planners need to find other creative ways to solve gridlock instead of focusing only on alternatives to cars.

"We’re going to have to work on roadway capacity improvements, (emphasis mine)" he said.
Sun Sentinel reported in June:
An average of 79 percent of South Florida’s commuters drive alone, the census shows. About 3 percent use public transportation. And recent attempts to sway commuters have been ineffective. 
Tri-Rail’s average daily ridership hovers around 15,000 people. 
The population of Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties is now over 6.1 million and they have spent wasted gobs of taxpayer money on failed transit projects. Tri-Rail's ridership is .24%, less than a quarter of one percent of the population in South Florida. South Florida taxpayers are stuck paying for costly transit fewer and fewer are using while they continue to grow. 

Learn from their mistakes. Taxpayers in Tampa Bay don't want to end up like South Florida, especially when traditional transit is being disrupted. No one should be trying to take Tampa Bay down such costly path. We cannot afford to keep funding failures.

Taxpayers should also beware that costly fixed guideways is about using taxpayer money for coercive land use and development. In 2013, the Obama Administration made a rule change to integrate affordable housing criteria as part of the evaluation for federal transit grant money. The TBARTA statute states:
The authority shall coordinate and consult with local governments on transit or commuter rail station area plans that provide for compact, mixed-use, transit-oriented development that will support transit investments and provide a variety of workforce housing choices, recognizing the need for housing alternatives for a variety of income ranges [aka subsidized affordable housing]
Gentrification along costly fixed guideway transit corridors requiring subsidized affordable housing is rarely mentioned or part of the discussion when pushing costly fixed guideways. In addition, transit-oriented development that forces high density development around transit stations is also often subsidized and is used to "encourage" transit ridership. Probably most taxpayers are totally unaware but the politicos and those with vested interests and those who will benefit certainly know.

The same special interests stakeholders will be back in Tallahassee next year lobbying for more TBARTA funding and policy changes to create some new long term funding source for TBARTA.

Will Tallahassee heed the reality that transit is being disrupted? 

Will Tallahassee help prevent costly and outdated transit projects or encourage them?Taxpayers should always be considered a stakeholder by those who provide accountability and oversight of the use of taxpayer money.

Or will Tallahassee again oblige the special interests lobbyists?

The future of transportation in Tampa Bay does not need TBARTA. Technology is dispersing innovation not centralizing it. 

2018 is election year providing an opportunity to ask all candidates running where they stand on TBARTA.

And tell the state legislators - instead of funding TBARTA,


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Is the self-driving bus an option for Bay area public transit?

Why would you build a billion-dollar bridge and include a 19th century transit solution?

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin, So You Want to Blog.

The light-rail lobby is once again poking its nose around the Tampa Bay area with FDOT, including a light-rail path on the proposed new Howard Franklin bridge.

The problem is light rail is a last century technology, environmentally inefficient and single purpose limited. 

For example, take emergency evacuation. Quoting from Sharon Clavert from Eye on Tampa Bay: Drain the Regional "Swamp" Before Its Filled. “Expensive rail systems must shut down days before an approaching hurricane or major storm. Trains can do nothing to help any evacuation effort in Tampa Bay and it takes days or a week or longer after the storm for trains to come back in service.  

Evacuation routes must be considered with any proposed mobility solution in Tampa Bay. If taxpayer big bucks are being spent on transportation in Tampa Bay, it better include accommodating evacuations.”

Would you ride a train across the bay if a storm was coming?

A rail track is a rail track and nothing, but a train can run on it. We will pour millions into a single purpose, decades old, high-cost  solution.

Another solution is well along in development –  The Autonomous bus. Check out Aarian Marshall, Transportation: DON'T LOOK NOW, BUT EVEN BUSES ARE GOING AUTONOMOUS.

A lane or lanes on the new Howard Franklin dedicated to autonomous mass transit vehicles would not only look into the future it would also provide flexibility in those moments when we need it most such as the ever-increasing need for evacuation.

Dedicated roadways and autonomous vehicles make a lot more sense than dedicated rail paths. They allow for more flexibility, Uber like pickup,  smaller stations, less taking of private property, lower overall cost and upkeep. As technology morphs the dedicated roadway can adapt much more easily and inexpensively to new advances.

In the longer view, dedicated interstate and secondary road lanes for autonomous mass transit would meet the salivating needs of the relators and developers who put so much value in transit-oriented  redevelopment.

Let’s not waste the opportunity to solve the Tampa Bay Public Transit problem by taking a big leap into the past and build a bridge with a rail line that will usually be empty when we drive across the bay in our electric cars and automated vehicles while costing a fortune to operate and maintain.

I for one do not want to drive over the “new” Howard Franklin bridge and look out the window of my self driving electric car at rusted rails and dilapidated semaphore signals.

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Disclosures: Contributor to Rick Baker for Mayor Campaign

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Fast Track HB13 to Stop Subsidizing Stadiums and the Pay to Play

According to this article, House Bill 13, that bans Florida sports franchises from constructing or renovating facilities on leased public land, is heading to the House floor. It does have a companion bill in the Senate SB352. House Bill 13 is identical to one that passed the House last year but died in the Senate.

The bill will pass the House but will it pass the Senate this time? With all the recent brouhaha going on over wealthy players protesting on their wealthy employers time and dime most often in stadiums paid for by taxpayers, will subsidizing wealthy sports team owners, franchises and players finally become toxic in Florida?

The bill went nowhere last year most probably because Senator Latvala, as the powerful Senate Appropriations Chair, did not want it to. According to Noah Pransky's latest post at his Shadow of the Stadium blog, which we highly recommend you follow, the wealthy sports team franchises love Latvala:
Why do pro teams love Latvala? In addition to his attempts to provide them stadium subsidies, he's also the biggest thing standing in the way of a House push to ban public land giveaways for new stadiums in Florida.
Senator Latvala's PAC is Florida Leadership Committee. As reported by Pransky, the Rays and the Dolphins have handed tens of thousands of dollars to his PAC. From the PAC's last campaign finance reporting the Rays and South Florida Stadium who operates the stadium the Dolphins play in handed Latvala's PAC $10K each on 9/29 and 9/30.
Rays, Dolphins big donors to Latvala
A real eye opener is Latvala's PAC received its largest amount of contributions of any campaign filing period ever this past February. With Latvala in his powerful role as Senate Appropriations Chair, his PAC received over $1 million (the most ever in a single filing period) in February 2017 right before session started. Go here and click the campaign finance activity and select the filing period to review the contributions for that period.

Follow the money….and follow the electeds who are beholden to that money and not you the taxpayer. The special interests give the big bucks to the PACs where there are no limits on their contributions. The special interests are giving the big bucks for a reason - they want something in return. The PACs then contribute to candidates they agree with who will help further their agenda. It's a big circle of money.

Pransky also reported that locally the Rays just gave $50K to Kriseman's Sunrise PAC raising the total to $81,500 that the Rays, the Rays owner Sternberg and Rays' executives have handed St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman. Kriseman faces off with Rick Baker in the St. Pete mayor's general election on November 7th.

What about over in Hillsborough County? Commissioner Hagan, the commission King of County Center who is selfishly refusing to abide by the spirit of term limits in the county charter, is also on the receiving end from the sports team franchisees. 

Hagan has raised a special interests war chest of over $400K dollars for a SINGLE MEMBER District seat. A quick review of donors to his campaign include a thousand dollars each from:
  • Stuart Sternberg, Rays owner
  • Strategic Property Partnership, Vinik
  • Amalie Arena, where Vinik's Lightning and Storm play
  • Tampa Bay Lightning, Vinik
  • Tampa Bay Storm, Vinik
  • Yankee Global Enterprises
  • Robert Dupuy- attorney in NY firm Foley and Lardner, recently was president and COO of Major League Baseball
  • Latvala's Florida Leadership PAC
Those donations are just the tip of the iceberg of Hagan's special interests donor war chest. After 16 years of being a county commissioner and being term limited out of his county seat next year, Hagan thinks he is entitled to 8 more years. Hagan is leap frogging back to a District 2 seat he has already held.

Since the county charter was enacted 34 years ago, no one else has ever done what Hagan is arrogantly and selfishly doing - violating the spirit of the county term limits in the county charter by abusing a loophole. And his donors know it…

For WTSP, Pransky reported on August 23rd about Hagan's idea of handing the Rays the HCSO property in Ybor:
"In his search to find the Rays a new place to play in Tampa's urban core, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan has toyed with the idea of relocating the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office headquarters out of Ybor City to make room for a new stadium."
Providing public land for stadium development could be another possible avenue for taxpayers to subsidize the project. Hagan, who once advocated "no public dollars" be spent on a Rays stadium, has recently said he thought taxpayers should help with the "infrastructure" side of a new stadium.
And voila! More money goes pouring into Hagan's Pay to Play war chest. As Pransky posted on his stadium blog on September 18
"Companies controlled by Darryl Shaw, who has been dubbed "Ybor's big new (development) player," gave $5,000 to Hillsborough Commissioner Ken Hagan last month, according to campaign finance reports. Shaw's wife and a company she controls also each chipped in $1,000, the maximum-allowable donation for the 2018 election.
H/T Noah Pransky
Hagan's Ybor Pay to Play donors

Nothing about how taxpayers would be on the hook for paying for a brand new HCSO HQ facility somewhere - can't let those silly little details get in the way….

Not only is Hagan a leap frogger from one county commission seat to another and back, he's also a flip flopper on the issue of public funding for a stadium.

We posted this expose of Hagan and his tactics back in January 2016 during the Go Hillsborough tax hike debacle.  

At the October 1, 2014 county commission meeting, Hagan stated
At the next BOCC meeting on October 15, 2014, the county commission "quietly" hired the major league baseball law firm Foley and Lardner. They did it egregiously through the use of the Consent Agenda where there is no discussion - just a rubber stamped approval. See above - Foley and Lardner is now one of Hagan's Pay to Play donors.

No wonder Pransky reported for WTSP in August that the county was eyeing federal transit dollars to help pay for a stadium aka Hagan's quest for costly trains and stadiums. 

Hagan and his baseball attorney took the baseball meetings secret and behind closed doors. Hagan likes the Atlanta model for how the Atlanta Braves got a new stadium because all their negotiations were behind closed doors too. 

That new stadium effort was led and shepherded by Cobb County commissioner Tim Lee. 

According to this article in May last year:
Lee cut a deal in secret to give nearly $400 million in tax money to multibillion-dollar conglomerate Liberty Media (AKA the Braves) to get the team to load its gear into moving vans and head north on I-75 to the Smyrna area. Lee even had a code name for the clandestine negotiations with the team — Operation Intrepid — which kind of gives it that Invasion of Normandy feel. 
What summarized the process was a May 2014 meeting where commissioners approved a series of legal agreements with the Braves without serious debate. The bond documents weren’t even made available until one business day before the meeting. 
As an exclamation point — or slap in the face — the 12 slots for public comment at the meeting were gobbled up hours earlier by sneaky pro-deal forces. Complainers were sent packing. The image of citizens getting shut down and marched out of a public meeting by cops doesn’t say Open Government. 
But this is what eventually happened to Tim Lee according to a July 2016 Atlanta Journal Constitution article (emphasis mine):
By the time the first pitch is hurled from the mound of SunTrust Park stadium next spring, the man who lured the Atlanta Braves to Cobb County will be out of office. 
Incumbent Chairman Tim Lee lost his reelection bid Tuesday to challenger Mike Boyce, a retired marine colonel, in a runoff seen by many as a litmus test for support of the deal to bring the Atlanta Braves to Cobb.
Boyce beat Lee, winning 64 percent of the vote, with all precincts reporting.

Once these deals are made, it never ends for taxpayers.

Hagan liked the Atlanta "speedy" process done in secret. Why? Because it enables electeds  to make deals behind closed doors to commit hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to a baseball stadium while prohibiting citizens and voters from appropriately weighing in. 

We bet that Hagan's Pay to Play donors likes the arrogant Atlanta quick and dirty process too but it should scare taxpayers in Hillsborough County. Hagan is being paid to deliver for his special interests - why their bucks are pouring into his Pay to Play campaign.

Beware Hillsborough County taxpayers and stay aware! Who knows what Hagan's going to hit them with when the St. Pete Mayor's race is decided next month.

Hagan does have a challenger who has filed, Chris Paradies, who is a West Point graduate.

So voters in Hillsborough County could do to Hagan next year what Cobb County voters did to Lee and toss him out. 

The continuing pursuit of a new taxpayer subsidized baseball stadium in Tampa Bay is why HB13 needs to be fast tracked and quickly passed by our state legislature next year.

All the Pay to Play to put taxpayers on the hook to subsidize wealthy sports team owners in Florida must stop.