Sunday, October 11, 2015

PSTA trolling for dollars in Washington

Should the Feds hand Brad Miller more Federal money?

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog. 

There are times when you question people's judgment and then there are times you just scratch your head and smile. This article in the Tampa Bay Times by Tony Marrero: Pinellas officials head to D.C. in search of funds for St. Pete rapid bus line caught my eye.

PSTA CEO Brad Miller hauled County Commissioner Janet Long and St. Pete City Councilmember Darden Rice up to Washington to meet with Representatives David Jolly, Kathy Castor, Senator Bill Nelson and someone from Marco Rubio's office to talk about getting some federal money for PSTA projects.

If you don't follow the goings on at PSTA, this might seem like a worthwhile effort since PSTA is pretty much capped out on tax revenue and Federal dollars for public transit have dried up.

Brad Miller going to Washington to ask for Federal Dollars is kind of like the guy who just got arrested for breaking into your house sending someone by to knock on your door and ask if you could help with his bail.

Miller, who misused federal funds to try to get even more of your tax money in the GreenLight sales tax debacle and then lied to the PSTA Board, would likely be the last person any federal or state politician would be excited about handing federal grant dollars.

From 10 News Investigates:

County Commissioner Janet long, recently laughingly reappointed to the PSTA Board, gave Miller a bad review and then would not support his removal.  See my Post Janet Long reelected to serve 3 more years on PSTA Board.

You can check out their evaluations of Miller:

Darden Rice, a long-time Miller supporter, just can't seem to see any fault with Miller's actions.

Even with PSTA's mounting financial problems, it is hard to rationalize how Long and Rice could look at US House Members, a Senator and a Senator's Representative with a straight face and ask for more money to be managed by the same staff that misused the last large federal grant.

Apparently Long and Rice must feel that the people in Washington are so isolated inside the beltway that they are oblivious to what is going on at the ground level in Pinellas County.

For now, Miller has seven months to "improve his performance." Not exactly sure what that means but one might assume figuring out more ways not to get caught misusing PSTA funds.

The PSTA Board should be required to clean up the PSTA staff before any more federal or state money flows into the coffers. The Board's lack of oversight and the backbone to deal with issues like Miller's dalliances are the real reasons public transit in Pinellas County lacks public trust.

If you would like to send a copy of this Post to your Florida Representatives and Senator, here is the contact information.
You can just copy the Post URL at the top of the screen, or copy the whole Post and paste into their email form.

Representative David Jolly:

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Friday, October 9, 2015

Go Hillsborough and the Commissioners "Bully" Pulpit

Go Hillsborough was on the agenda at Wednesday's BOCC meeting. The Eye was there.

An archived video of this meeting can be found at HTV. Click on Archived Meetings on the left then search for BOCC Regular Meeting and the date 10/7/2015. There are two links. Click the bottom link where the meeting starts.

Please watch the public comments and then move forward to about 1:13 where the Go Hillsborough agenda item discussion begins. Click the top link to where the meeting continues.

Watch and you can come to your own conclusions about some of the statements made by some of these elected officials.

After the meeting, a few who attended weighed in with some comments.

Some takeaways and commentary from the meeting:

The Director of Procurement Services told us that the term "Referendum" used in the work order handed to Parsons was a BENIGN word that staff used. 

According to Websters Dictionary, some definitions of benign are "harmless, gracious, favorable". Referendum, according to Websters is "an event in which people of a county, state, etc. VOTE for or against a specific issue". 

The term Referendum is NOT benign. It equates to an election and that is POLITICAL.

The Director of Procurement also stated because of the short time frame requested to get the work done in 6 months (by March 2015), the CCNA process was appropriate. That's ridiculous considering the reality of where were are today over a year later - we have a huge tax proposal and NO plan. Reality is we have a mess that happens when the county simply hands a million dollar blank check to Parsons with a scope of work titled "Hillsborough County Transportation Referendum Support".

The reality of where we are today is what happens when there is nothing documented - NO bid, NO RFP, NO requirements and NO adequate oversight and NO adequate project management. True project management understands that the requirements and expectations documented at the start of a project is most important. With no requirements, the taxpayers nor the commissioners can determine the success of spending $1.35 Million taxpayer dollars for an effort that has taken too long and cost too much.

Wednesday's meeting ironically started off with a commendation from Sandy Murman recognizing October as Bullying Prevention Month. Were some of the commissioners sleeping during the commendation and missed the message?

In addition, when public comment is announced, Chairwoman Murman tells the audience the comments may not be directed personally against a commissioner or staff member but rather directed at the ISSUES.

The commissioners hear that statement at every meeting and know the rules whether they were paying attention at the time or not.

Some Alynsky style PR tactics were used by some commissioners to make accusations about a "few" ideologues making " bogus claims of cronyism and impropriety." Apparently, the county was so concerned about those "bogus claims" that they asked the Sheriff's office to investigate. 

Some of those so-called "ideologues" were proposing a Plan B to the commissioners during public comment. The "ideologues" who spoke were dealing with the issues of Go Hillsborough and transportation not name calling.

Did a text message not get received in time to alter the commissioner's script he was reading? 

We note that finally some commissioners were wondering why the cost of Go Hillsborough was so high. However, they have no one to blame but themselves. The Eye's been asking that question since last September and could never get an answer from county staff or commissioners. Isn't providing oversight a basic responsibility of our county commissioners?

When the PLG/county commissioners voted last August to hire Parsons Brinckerhoff, not one county commissioner or elected official asked, in the Sunshine, how much the effort was going to cost. County Administrator Mike Merrill did not even bring it up and he's the budget guy. Merrill knows how to suddenly "find" money when needed so we assume the commissioners knew Merrill would "find" whatever monies were needed.  

Vote to spend gobs of money on "something" without knowing it's cost or asking specifically what work we as taxpayers were actually going to pay for. Horrible way to govern. 

Perhaps the commissioners already knew the cost and it was already baked in but did not want to talk about such a high cost last August. Did the county commissioners get the text message below, thanks to Noah Pransky's 10 Investigates reporting, sent from PR lobbyist Beth Leytham to County Administrator Mike Merrill on 8/19/2014?

The commissioners had other opportunities where they could have questioned the costs but did not. 

The commissioners voted in January to waive the Parsons work order limit of $500K and double the work order amount to almost a million dollars. That vote was rammed through on the Consent Agenda. The Consent Agenda enables the commissioners to approve a long list of items with a single vote. It also prevents any discussion about any single item. Commissioners can remove items from the Consent Agenda and move the item to the Regular Agenda for discussion. No commissioner asked for that item to be removed from the Consent Agenda for a discussion before voting. Another lost opportunity to inquire why a public engagement effort was costing taxpayers a million bucks.

In July the PLG, including all the county commissioners voted to hand the Parsons/Leytham team $350K more of our tax dollars. Again, the commissioners did not question the cost, even as this effort became a run away train wreck taking way too long and being way over budget.

If the commissioners cannot manage $1.35 million and they can not answer why Go Hillsborough campaign costs so much, who wants to give them BILLIONS more to spend?

So the question of the day is why did this effort cost taxpayers $1.35 Million? There's NO engineer of record named or real engineering work being done. Instead, there is hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign work enriching Beth Leytham, a politically well connected PR lobbyist with very close ties to Mayor Buckhorn and Commissioner Hagan. 

Who else did this contract enrich? The taxpayers deserve to know to whom and where every dime of the $1.35 million went. 

The Sheriff needs to follow the money trail as well as the process trail because the Parsons contract is risky business to taxpayers.

The commissioners decided to do nothing until the Sheriff's investigation was completed. They also decided to have Parsons come back to the 11/5 PLG meeting to present their final work product. Who knows what will happen at that meeting.

The commissioners will then conduct a workshop for further discussion on topics we have been asking for months. What's their Plan B? What other funding options besides a sales tax hike can fund our roads and transportation. 

Why weren't the commissioners asking questions about other funding options months ago? Why weren't the commissioners seriously focusing on a 10 year feasible plan rather than a 30 year boondoggle plan? Why didn't the commissioners ask these questions of the Merrill/Parsons/Leytham team at the June 11 meeting when all that team did was propose a 30 year sales tax hike for a plan that did not exist?

As we have stated numerous times, no true consultant ever proposes only one, take it or leave it, option, to their clients. They always offer multiple options and scenarios.                                      

At the meeting, Commissioner White made a motion to terminate the Parsons contract but it failed 6-1. Shameful that failed because Parsons should have been fired. There's more questions, issues and misdeeds with this Go Hillsborough mess than just how they got the contract. 

The Internal Auditor stated at the meeting that a full audit would take 4-6 months. We assume a more extensive law enforcement investigation may take longer. The Sheriff's  investigation timeline is unknown. 

With the commissioners keeping the crony Parsons/Letham Go Hillsborough team going, some commissioners think the debacle can stay on its original timeline for getting on the ballot. That sounds more like desperation than logical thinking. 

Some commissioners have joined the Tribune in circling the wagons to salvage Go Hillsborough. But when some commissioners are reduced to using bully tactics from their bully pulpit, ironically during anti-bullying month, against constituents who ask serious questions, have valid concerns, disagree with them, offer alternatives.....

Someone must be running scared. 

Commuter Rail may be an option

CSX would merely make the tracks available for lease through a deal with State the rest would be up to the local community.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

CSX has thrown its hat into the tumultuous ring of Tampa Bay area public transit. 

You can read the details in: Caitin Johnston's piece in the Tampa Bay Times, CSX's offer finally opens the door to commuter rail in Tampa Bay.

Carving an interesting path through Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties and connecting the down towns of Tampa, Clearwater and St. Petersburg, these CSX tracks could form a backbone to move commuters over fairly large distances.

For now, the CSX offers to make certain lines available do open a new and interesting window of discussion. The commuter rail system would, by its very nature, be inter modal requiring both bus and possibly light rail to carry short distance and last mile traffic.

There is a host of issues as Caitin Johnston points out, the most difficult overcoming the political parochialism that will always accompany an effort like the CSX offering proposes.

CSX would merely make the tracks available for lease through a deal with the State the rest would be up to the local community.

The initial thought is to establish yet another regional board made up of elected officials to try to bring a plan together.

These Boards of elected officials have proven to be virtually useless. They accomplish little beyond talk are poor managers, they are prone to encourage corruption, if not among themselves, then among the organizational staffs they create and their hired consultants.

Public transportation would be better served if TBARTA were disbanded, and the Hillsborough and Pinellas County transit authority boards were reconstituted with a majority of non elected officials.

The real issue here before any of this ever gets off the ground is to make sure we don't have the same-old  people, political groups, consultants, influence peddlers and politicians who want to get their hands into the money flow running this effort.

If they do commuter rail will likely go the way of GreenLight Pinellas, Go Hillsborough and other transit initiatives.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Is CSX Trying to Sell its High Priced Junk to Us?

CSX is offering to sell some of its under utilized tracks around Tampa Bay to the Florida Department of Transportation.
There are 97 miles of railroad track connecting the downtowns of Clearwater, St. Petersburg and Tampa. The steel grating links Tampa International Airport to the University of South Florida, stretches across four counties and reaches as far north as Brooksville.
Freight trains run on those tracks now. But they could, one day, form the spine of a passenger rail system that would finally connect Tampa Bay — and ease the region's dependence on roads.
This is no pie-in-the-sky scenario. It's an idea gaining sudden momentum because railroad giant CSX Corp. is shopping around two segments of its Tampa Bay routes.
 CSX is interested in selling two lines.
One of the rail lines offered by CSX is the "Clearwater line." It stretches from downtown St. Petersburg, climbs northwest through Pinellas County to downtown Clearwater, veers to Oldsmar, then runs east past Tampa International Airport and ends near downtown Tampa, in Ybor City.
The second route is the "Brooksville line." It starts in Tampa, juts north from the first line, passes by USF, cuts through Land O'Lakes in Pasco County and finishes in central Hernando County, near Brooksville.
Urged by local leaders, CSX analyzed its lines and found that those two routes carried minimal freight traffic and could be used for passenger rail.
Here's where the tracks run CSX wants to unload.

CSX rail lines for sale
(in red and blue)
We should note a few things.

This is not a light rail solution. If realized, this will be a commuter rail solution. That is, big, heavy, noisy, diesel trains, on existing CSX tracks that were originally built for efficient movement of freight. It is not commuters, or people heading to the ball game or the art museums or the latest event in a downtown park.. Want to convert to light rail? Not going to happen.

These tracks are where they are. They are not optimized for Transit Oriented Development, if anyone believes that myth. They do connect the downtowns of Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater, as well as Tampa airport and USF or at least close enough, but in a rather meandering way. They're not helping major residential communities such as Brandon, Fishhawk, Keystone-Odessa or New Tampa, and misses major job corridors around Westshore, I-4, I-75, and Pinellas Gateway.  Good for Brooksville, nothing for Brandon.

The only segment worth anything for commuters is the downtown Tampa - USF, and perhaps up to Land O' Lakes. The rest is pretty worthless, but its a packaged deal from CSX. The Tampa - Clearwater - St. Petersburg route will be too time consuming for most who already have a car and will still be able to drive where they want in less time. The downtown Tampa to airport route suffers as well, unless you have time for a not so scenic circuitous route.

There are other CSX tracks in the Tampa Bay area that are not currently listed for sale. Namely a line that from downtown Tampa, paralleling the Selmon Crosstown south of Gandy into the Port Tampa City area, as well as those in the east county Brandon area. Expect those to be offered for a nice price, but after the initial sale of the junk.

But it does go all the up to Brooksville! I guess the urbanist crowd is eager to sell the utopian dream of Transit Oriented Development to Brooksville.
Urged by local leaders, CSX analyzed its lines and found that those two routes carried minimal freight traffic and could be used for passenger rail.
In other words, at best CSX does not need these lines, and may be money losers for them.  If they can dump those lines and get a top price from the FDOT, perhaps several times anyone else will pay, and we will let them continue to use the same lines with no liability (see Sunrail), why not?

Who's the sucker that wants to buy them?

Also, it's likely that CSX will want to retain some rights or lease back some ability to continue to run freight on these lines, likely constraining transit schedules.

At this stage, costs, ridership and timelines are unknown. We do know that Orlando's SunRail has regularly missed ridership estimates, and has no long term funding source beyond the existing state of Florida and now some new federal subsidies. Tri-Rail in South Florida is continually subsidized by the state as well, and neither has made any difference in congestion relief.

CSX will not sell its lines to local municipalities, only to the FDOT, so it will take a lot unforeseen planning and coordination into all our Tampa Bay transportation related "plans" across several Tampa Bay counties and FDOT to bring this to fruition. Don't hold your breath.

The Times editorial writers are a bit more cautious.
The prospect holds some allure. With some modification and addition, it could link the University of South Florida with a multimodal transit hub in downtown Tampa, with future high-speed connections to Central Florida and light rail or modern tram connections to West Shore, Gateway and downtown St. Petersburg. A spur line that runs down to the northern edge of Tampa International Airport could theoretically link air passenger traffic to Clearwater and USF. Westchase residents could commute quickly to downtown Tampa and USF. Depending on the sale price, right of way costs could be significantly lower than most alternatives.
But none of those potential advantages necessarily justifies what could turn out to be a suboptimal rail network — even if federal and state governments shoulder three-quarters of the cost, as they did with SunRail. Other than for the USF-downtown Tampa leg, ridership levels could be weak for decades.
Most important of all, the CSX network bypasses what transit experts call the "home run line" — a direct, dense light rail route over the Howard Frankland Bridge between downtown Tampa and downtown St. Petersburg that includes the area's major employment and residential hubs as well as TIA. Commuter rail systems are too heavy to cross the Howard Frankland. The CSX purchase will work only if it augments reasonably quick construction of that home run line.
"[R]idership levels could be weak for decades." A brief awakening from the rail cheerleaders.

Note the lack of the "home run line" between Tampa and St. Petersburg, crossing the Howard Frankland Bridge. We can expect rail proponents to claim that FDOT has agreed to beef up the transit corridor for their plans to replace the north bound span in the next 10 years or so, and adding commuter rail is no big deal.  But don't expect them to cite any costs. The transit corridor FDOT committed to to was for managed bus toll lanes, which is a manageable cost we support. To beef up the structure to add light rail adds nearly $1B to the HFB plans. Commuter rail is even heavier, traveling faster, so we can expect the costs to be even more than light rail. Regardless, any rail solution over the HFB is a non-starter as it will reduce capacity for hurricane evacuation routes, and will have to be shut down in any wind conditions exceeding 35 mph for light rail.

The fundamental problem of rail is it goes where rail goes, not where people go. These CSX lines were designed to move freight, and to repurpose them to move people where people want to go will be costly. If SunRail and Tri-Rail are any guidance, it won't help with their daily commute or relieve congestion, and will continue to be a drain on the taxpayer and the vast majority of residents who will not regular ride on this rail.

It's a suckers bet. CSX is trying to unload its junk on us.

Keep away from a bad deal, unless your goal is to urbanize Brooksville around a commuter rail station.

The Rays and the Second Season

As the fall negotiating season opens, the Rays management wants to avoid a repeat of past performances.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog.

For the last few years, the Tampa Bay Rays have been playing four seasons in St. Petersburg.

There is spring training, the regular season, the fall politics season and the winter negotiating season.

You are probably pretty familiar with spring training and the regular season, the fall political season and the winter negotiating season maybe not so much.

The fall political season is that period where the St. Pete City Council, the Pinellas County Commission, Tampa and to some degree Hillsborough County tries to get their various proposals, positions, money and ducks in a row.

Typically, there are a lot of pitches, mostly softballs, a few strikes and a lot of outs.

This year the tension between the Mayor Rick Kriseman, Council Chairman Charlie Gerdes and City Council has boiled over into the St. Pete City Council elections where at least one media outlet, the Tampa Bay Times, has tried to make the District Seven City Council race all about baseball.

The Second Season will actually kick off later this month when a new proposal from City Council is supposed to surface on October 15th, and we may find out if Mayor Kriseman is going to throw hard balls by refusing to do the studies the City Council has requested or refuse to present the City Council proposal.

The Rays will hold their wrap-up  news conference later this week, and you can look for some preliminary public talks with the Mayor and someone from the Rays probably in a month or so. The Mayor's office would like everyone to think some talks have been ongoing, but I think that is not likely.

The other players, The Pinellas County Commission and the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council are now touting a mega sized spring training initiative at Toytown the former landfill (dump) and making soft but definitely threatening noises to move tourist tax revenue from a Rays stadium to the dump... err landfill.

Most curious has been the lack of any major-league  baseball interest from Hillsborough County or Mayor Kriseman's buddy Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Since Jeff Vinik indicated that baseball was not the "best and highest" use of his downtown development property a major-league baseball stadium has not been a hot topic across the Bay.

Look for some high and outside pitches from across the Bay just to keep things interesting, but unless a really deep pocked angel shows up or MLB becomes so disgusted with St. Pete and Pinellas County they are willing to pony up some serious money and/or concessions the pickens for a new stadium in Hillsborough may be a bit slim.

As the fall politics season wraps up and City Council and the Mayor try to get a unified game plan in place things could get a bit testy. Kriseman has not had a political win in some time and getting a Rays deal to look for a new stadium on his terms would be a big win.

If Charlie Gerdes can be the one who puts the Rays stadium deal together, the Mayor and his dream team will continue to look like the ineffective bunch the really are.

As the fall negotiating season opens, the Rays management from President Brian Auld right on down want to avoid a repeat of past performances where they got asked questions they could not or did not want to answer and ended up in political fights, they 1) had no interest in and 2) could not win.

Just given the Rays trepidation and speed at which baseball approaches problems like the Ray's stadium dilemma, don't look for much to happen before the November election, and if that goes badly it could be January before any really substantive talks result in a new and acceptable proposal.

Meanwhile, the spring training proposal for Toytown will continue to move along.

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Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tribune Can't Help "Fix' Go Hillsborough Mess, Tribune is Part of the Mess

The Tribune's collusion to salvage the Go Hillsborough mess they helped perpetuate is now raging. This is a PR strategy and we know who's PR strategy it is.

The Tribune reports today that they finally found someone to publicly defend the crony debacle:
In the three weeks since the report aired, no group of supporters has emerged to defend the transportation effort. Business leaders, who supported a failed transportation referendum in 2010 and have been lobbying for another effort to alleviate traffic congestion, have been silent.
That changed Monday when Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber has not backed off its support for a comprehensive transportation program.
Rohrlack was reacting to an article last week in the local weekly newspaper, La Gaceta, that said the chamber was backing away from Go Hillsborough in light of the controversy. Rohrlack said the report was incorrect. 
“The chamber has not blinked. We continue to move forward on transportation,” he said.
The chamber has two committees working on transportation issues, Rohrlack said, and chamber leaders have been communicating with county staff throughout this year’s Go Hillsborough process and during many rounds of transportation meetings in preceding years.
“We’re going to work together and do something on transportation,” Rohrlack said. “We’ve been open and honest talking to the county. We’ve encouraged them to do this and we’ve been part of the discussion.”
Reminder:  the Chambers have been on the LOSING side of every transportation referendum in the Tampa Bay Area. Isn't insanity defined as continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome?

Perhaps a different tactic is needed. The Chamber should get out of their downtown bubble and talk to those who actually vote.

County Administrator Mike Merrill, acting in his new role undertaken in January 2014 as an unelected County Mayor, other county and city staff and some county commissioners have spoken about Go Hillsborough at private Chamber meetings. Elected county commissioners can advocate for tax increases and policies all day long but staffers and unelected bureaucrats cannot. Things can get quite messy in those "private" meetings......between special interests and staffers.

The Merrill/Leytham/Clifford team used a poll conducted 6 months ago with a margin of error of 4% that deceptively (how the questions were asked) reflected 52% would support a 1/2% sales tax increase. With that margin of error, there may not have even been a majority then to support a tax increase at that time. 

Based on a flimsy poll where they filtered the poll details from the PLG, a not very big participation rate from the public in the Go Hillsborough "public engagement" effort, no engineering done, no technical analysis done, no priorities provided, this team proposed a huge 30 year tax and NO transportation plan. 

Only in the public sector can crony consultants being paid $1.35 MILLION of taxpayer monies offer only one solution, a 30 year tax hike with no plan, to their clients. Real consultants never do that. In the private sector, these consultants would be fired and a refund demanded.

This is how entrenched special interests, the Tribune, the Times and other cronies operate. They have become insiders with an entrenched bureaucracy down at County Center. And according to Noah's reporting, the "Queen of Influence" Leytham, who has gotten hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars directed her way from the county, the city of Tampa, other taxpayer funded agencies, is their Gatekeeper for access.

The crony team of Merrill/Leytham/Clifford team is so entrenched that they unilaterally decided to bring back the full 1% sales tax because that's what they wanted all along.

There wasn't even any repercussions from this outrageous behavior. A little drama at the county commission meeting but no action taken and no repercussions for violating the CCNA contract, violating the policy making powers held by the electeds and violating the trust of the people.

The Go Hillsborough August 17th public release under Leytham's name violated Parsons own CCNA contract. Their contract specifically states Parsons (or any of their subcontractors) cannot publish public statements without first getting prior written consent from the county. 

I asked for a copy of the county's written consent via a public records request on September 9, 2015. To date, I have heard nothing. If it existed, they could have easily provided a copy.

Are these cronies also so entrenched with the electeds? Only an INDEPENDENT investigation going back years can find out. The investigation must include former County Commissioner Mark Sharpe.

The Tribune is desperate now because they know "they" have lost the narrative. Therefore they use one of their other often used strategies:  collusion. They collude using their editorial page (perhaps written by the "Queen of Influence") Editorial: Raw politics intrude on Go Hillsborough transportation initiative with their front page reporting referenced above. 

The Tribune has been an insider inserting their own "raw political agenda" in this mess all along with their "too cozy" relationship with the "Queen of Influence" Beth Leytham. We cannot forget Leytham's text message dated August 13, 2014 to County Administrator Mike Merrill, now public thanks to Noah Pransky's investigative reporting. Based on other text messages between Leytham and Merrill included in Pransky's reporting, we're left wondering when Leytham texts Merrill to jump, does Merrill ask how high?

Why hasn't the Tribune "owned" up to their tight knit relationship with Leytham? 

Because they have invested so heavily in it....for how many years? 

The Tribune continues to peddle another "Queen of Influence" Leytham PR strategy - point fingers elsewhere (remember when pointing, three fingers are pointing back). 

The Tribune would like nothing better than to distract, distract, distract from the real issues at hand and continue bashing and pointing fingers at those who raise legitimate questions about this entirely flawed Go Hillsborough process. The Tribune strategy is nothing short of pure arrogance put on full display by the Tribune.

The Tribune is so invested in the Go Hillsborough debacle that they do not care "how" anything is done - they just want the huge tax. To them, the "ends" justifies the "means". 

There was a time when print journalists were actually curious about "questionable" activities, possible misdeeds in government, unethical behavior in government, wasteful government spending or possible corruption and would investigate such activities. 

Those days are dead in Hillsborough County.

The Tribune cannot circle their wagons fast enough to salvage Go Hillsborough.

The Tribune cannot help "fix" the Go Hillsborough mess.

The Tribune is part of the Go Hillsborough mess!

Then You Win

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."

That quote... really an imagined quote mis-attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, sums up the attitude of the local media and the politicians regarding Go Hillsborough.

We reported over the past year numerous issues with Go Hillsborough, and regularly reached out to county leaders.

They ignored us.

Go Hillsborough and the Transportation Policy Leadership Group refused to consider any alternatives besides a sales tax increase. Only the single sales tax increase was proposed... or was it two? Yet there was no real plan to build anything, only a promise to spend. They did not consider impact or mobility fees, they ignored the TBX plans, refused to develop any real plans, as if their lack of action developing feasible transportation plans over the last decade was our fault. What do we know?

Beth Leytham, working her magic "because I'm good" PR, deflecting her own creation of the mess called Go Hillsborough:
“Actually I don’t think this is just coming to light because of the TV,” Leytham said. “I think the tea partiers and anti-tax types have been talking about this for months and months.”
They laughed at us.

From the Tribune's editorial on September 19,
But tea-party opponents of the effort will look for opportunities to drive a wedge into every crease that opens in the process, no matter how small or trivial. In this case, they have the appearance of cozy relationships between elected officials and a contractor.
No. Tea Party opponents are not driving a wedge into every crease in the obviously flawed Go Hillsborough process. The Go Hillsborough team is quite good at doing that to themselves. We just report it. The Tribune presented no evidence otherwise. Only now the Tribune states the audit needs to
Eliminating that appearance [of cozy relationships between elected officials and a contractor] should be done quickly so the public can be assured the effort is about improving transportation and not about improving the bottom lines of contractors and the friends of elected officials.
Eliminating the appearance? Or should we get to the truth?

Many others besides the Tea Party, have come out against Go Hillsborough, from the Sierra Club to La Gaceta. The big story was broke by Noah Pransky. Are Sierra Club, Patrick Manteiga, and Noah Pransky Tea Party? So what gives, Tampa Tribune?

The Tribune has a lot of credibility to lose here. They've refused to acknowledge their meetings and  own "cozy relationship" with Beth Leytham, the focus of much of this investigation. Why not? 

The Tribune, severely damaged by their unacknowledged relationship with Beth Leythan, the center of the controversy, is leading the fight.

Here's a Tribune "Letter of the Day" from September 30.
Having lived through the Greenlight Pinellas war, I see another tea party activist using the same tactics to denigrate a thoroughly reasonable proposal that would benefit the entire community in West-Central Florida. Sharon Calvert is using the same methods that some No Tax For Tracks members used to unjustly defeat Greenlight Pinellas. One member repeatedly misled local municipal councils and went to Denver and brought back a totally erroneous report on Denver’s light rail. She constantly smeared PSTA management, calling into question some of their actions which in hindsight proved to be perfectly legal and reasonable. Now I see Calvert using the same misrepresentations to try to defeat Go Hillsborough — all in the name of “no new taxes.”
The fact the Tribune allowed this fact free LTE to be the Letter of the Day, much less published at all, is clearly a set up.

"Unjustly" defeated Greenlight? It was justly defeated 62 - 38%.

"Smeared PSTA management, calling into question some of their actions which in hindsight proved to be perfectly legal and reasonable."

Seriously? Which is worse in your world, an erroneous report on Denver or the federal government demanding repayment of misappropriated funds, that was not judged "perfectly legal and reasonable", but was in fact judged potentially criminal?

"This is how the tea party is destroying America."

No. This is people like Dave Stanton who are destroying America, by purposely ignoring the malfeasance and dishonorable behavior if it fits their agenda, and tarnishing those that expect more from our public servants.

Remember Greenlight Pinellas, when proponents stated only the tea party was against it. Remember 62-38. We're all tea partiers now.

And weeks later, Joe Henderson has yet another column, on the Sam Rashid story that keeps on giving him columns... so many, I've lost count.

Yes Rashid used crude language. About a month ago.

Can we move on, Joe?

Unless, you know, you really want to write something about the real issues that we and Noah Pransky have uncovered regarding Go Hillsborough, and the valid concerns that Rashid raised.

But that's not as easy as writing another column about Rashid and his bad word.

As Joe closes,
There are legitimate reasons to raise an eyebrow about the way Go Hillsborough is being run, so let the investigation reveal specifically what’s going on and act accordingly.

No matter what turns up, though, I have a feeling it won’t be enough for Rashid and opponents of the transportation measure. I’m sure the Lindbergh baby kidnapping figures into this somehow.

That’s not true, of course, but when you hate something as badly as Sam Rashid appears to hate this proposed sales tax increase, there’s no need to wait for the facts. Those things can be inconvenient anyway.
Gosh, Joe almost took on the real issue. But he dipped back into the ad hominem attacks on Rashid, rather than the merit, or lack thereof, of his argument.

By the way Joe, did you know that Sheriff David Gee was a fundraising chair for County Commissioner Stacy White during his run for commission?

Sheriff Gee was fundraising host for Commissioner Stacy White
Now we hear that (downtown only) Tampa Mayor Buckhorn, on a trip to Denver this week, with over 100 Tampa Chamber of Commerce members inspected Denver's so called light rail success was quoted  as saying "those Tea Party cowards are funding the opposition to Go Hillsborough."

The only funding the Tea Party is contributing are our taxes that is funding the Go Hillsborough debacle.

Who's the coward, Buckhorn? Hiding behind the skirt of his "friend and advisor", not a lobbyist or campaign manager, but a political donor to him, Beth Leytham, who Buckhorn has helped direct hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to.

We'll take you on any time, downtown Bob. Name the time, name the place. Bring some facts, not pejoratives.

Then they fought us.

As we wrote last week, now they've lost. Just like 2010. Just like 2014.

We are all Tea Party now.

Then we win.