Sunday, June 30, 2013

Disingenuous or Short Term Memory Loss?

After the big spending, pork laden Farm bill crashed and burned in the House last week, the Tampa Tribune on June 25 wrote in their Op-Ed  "Forget failed farm bill and seek big reforms":
passage of another complex bill would have been nothing the average taxpayer and consumer should have cheered.  
Congress should start over, separate food aid to the needy from financial aid to agriculture, and take another look at sugar policies, something the failed bill assumed were fine as they are.
Here at the "eye" we agreed this misnamed Farm bill, where 80% of the funding was for food stamps, was nothing to cheer about.  We believe Americans are tired of huge, complex, comprehensive, incomprehensible bills that end up as costly failures to taxpayers that no one can be held accountable for. 

The Tribune Op-Ed on the Farm bill then went on to correctly point out:
It would seem logical to separate the two different forms of welfare and make it easier for the public to understand what's at stake. 
Why not write bills that stand alone on their merits?  
The "eye" agrees that each component should be addressed on it's own and force a debate on their individual merits.  But the question we now ask, "Why doesn't this logic apply to the Senate immigration bill or any other bill for that matter?"  Why not pass single issue bills?

But today's Tribune Op-Ed addresses the immigration bill like this:
What's important are the major provisions: improving border security, finding out who has overstayed their visas, requiring employers to check the legal status of applicants, welcoming adequate numbers of skilled and unskilled foreign workers in the industries that desperately need them, and acknowledging that the peaceful and hard-working immigrants who have made homes here for years are not going back to their homelands.
Our representatives in the House should be given a chance to vote.
So the Senate Immigration bill attempts to address numerous complex components in a single comprehensive, costly bill that few have read or completely understand.  But the Farm bill is so complex that we should separate it's components so taxpayers and the public knows what's at stake and those voting on these bills know what they are voting on.  

We can't reconcile why the Tribune thinks we need to start over on the Farm bill but push for the House to vote on the Senate comprehensive immigration bill.  So we'll just have to speculate whether they are being disingenuous or suffering from short term memory loss.  We report, you decide.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Immigration duels in Tampa

Yesterday, a pro-immigration crowd gathered at Marco Rubio's Tampa office, followed shortly by a press conference to encourage Senator Rubio to walk away from the current bill he is co-sponsoring in the Senate.

From TBO,
TAMPA ­­- Neatly illustrating the political tightrope Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is walking on immigration reform, pro- and anti-immigration reform advocates both held demonstrations outside his office Wednesday.

In an ironic reversal, the pro-reform crowd of immigrant advocacy groups, usually Rubio's political opponents, praised him for pushing the "gang of eight" reform bill and urged him to stay the course. The anti-reform crowd of tea party activists, including some of Rubio's earliest backers, complained bitterly that he has betrayed them by supporting the bill.

"I believed Sen. Rubio in 2010 when he said we've got to secure the borders first ... (and that) an earned path to citizenship is code for amnesty," Tampa Tea Party chairwoman Sharon Calvert said.

"We're here to hold him accountable," said Barbara Haselden of the South Pinellas 9-12 Project.
Rubio was not there, he was in DC, where he read part of Sharon's email to him on the Senate floor.  You can read that full letter here.

Here is a video of the full press conference of the Tea Party and Tampa 912.

The first pro-immigration demonstration, around 9:30  included Mi Familia Vota, Rainbow Push Coalition, "and the politically active Service Employees International Union."

According to one attendee, there were 33 total attendees, including 9  "media" (cameramen, reporters, videographers), 7 "organizers", and 8 (at least) interns.

One of the two speakers of the 2 was upset because when his father, here illegally, had a heart attack, and went to the emergency room to get free healthcare. Tthey (the rest of his family, apparently also all here illegally) were looking over their shoulders the entire time because there was a police officer nearby. Thankfully, it all worked out fine in the end, he's back to work  in South Carolina.

Photos from the pro-immigration rally
The pro-immigration event lasted about 20 minutes.

They offer free pizza if you come to make phone calls at their office.

They opened and closed with a prayer.

Who leads Mi Familia Vota?  Several have ties to organized labor.
  • Eliseo Medina, Treasurer International Executive Vice President, the Service Employees International Union
  • Cindy Estrada, Vice President, United Auto Workers
  • Rocio Sáenz , President of SEIU Local 615
Just thought you may want to know who their leaders are.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

My email to Rubio

Several days ago I sent an email to Senator Marco Rubio requesting that the Senator please walk away from the Gang of 8 Immigration bill. I confirmed he personally received the email and was asked if he could read some parts of it on the floor of the Senate, which he did today. Below is my email in its entirety.
Honorable Senator Rubio: 
I write to you today to request that you please walk away from the Corker-Hoeven Amendment and the Gang of 8 immigration bill.  
I first heard you speak in the late fall of 2009 at an event in Tampa hosted by the New Tampa Republican Club. I was so impressed by your Conservatism, your optimism and your message that America is exceptional and that we must remain so. I became an ardent supporter that evening and worked to do my best in 2010 to get you elected. I trusted that you would do the right thing and stand up to Washington's status quo establishment of either party that has created such a mess over the last decades.  
I understand, empathized and truly believed that you had the best of intentions when you decided to get out in front and take on the immigration issue. However, today, June 2013, we are in a very different political climate than we were even after last November's election. We are in the political climate of Distrust. Distrust of government and elected representatives is at it's highest. That is not a good sign for any nation. Trust has broken down due to too many broken promises of major comprehensive bills passed - Stimulus, Farm Bills, Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes Oxley, Patriot Act and, of course, ObamaCare. And distrust has risen as a result of the recent scandals and government officials of this administration lying to Americans. Do we want to trust this Administration to faithfully enforce a bill to the best interests of All Americans with a bill that few have read?  
Americans are fatigued of 1000 plus page comprehensive bills that are rushed through a process that lacks transparency and consists of back room deals and buy offs. Very few Senators and Americans will have had the time to fully read and digest the Corker-Heuven 1200 page amendment that is to be voted on today. All Senators, whether they support this bill or not, should at the very least know exactly what they are voting. All Americans deserve the time to read and digest this bill as well. You are not voting on 5 broad talking points but a huge complex bill. The devil is always in the details. I understand the bill includes pork, payoff to special interests, conflicting statements and will increase unemployment and decrease wages. Worst of all, I do not believe this bill will resolve the issue of illegals. 
Trust is earned and when it's lost can be hard to win back. I believed you in 2010 when you stated "we've got to secure the borders in our existing system first before we can even begin to have a conversation about the other elements of immigration and that "earned path to citizenship is basically code for amnesty." Most Americans, I believe, are appalled and find it unacceptable that 12 years after 9/11 we still have not secured our borders. If Senators Schumer, Durbin and Reid were serious about securing our borders, they would not have stopped building the fence and they would help pass a border security bill separate from the immigration issue.  
I do not believe the face of the future Republican party is Senators McCain and Graham. I do believe this issue is splitting the Republican party and may cause irreparable damage if the Conservative base pulls away. You have a great, appealing message that can win the hearts and minds of many Americans. I believe you can be a champion for Conservative principles without pandering to any segment or ethnicity. Remember when the government gives something to one group, they must take something from someone else. 
I ask that you reconsider your position and please walk away from the Gang of 8 bill. We need to secure our borders first and then we can address immigration in a transparent, piece by piece manner. I pray you will do the right thing. 
Thank you. 
Sharon Calvert
Tampa Tea Party
Scroll to the end to watch the video of Rubio's Senate floor speech here.  Unfortunately, it appears Senator Rubio will not walk away from this immigration bill.  But the bill has not passed yet and hopefully it will never see the light of day in the House.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Crony beer

Our political leaders talk all the time about the virtues of small business and the incubator... event the driver of our economy.  You would think they would be doing whatever they can to help small business thrive and grow.

Unless some big business wants to squash competition and can find a willing lawmaker to carry their water beer.
TALLAHASSEE - A battle is brewing between Florida's craft beermakers, including Tampa's popular Cigar City, and the Big Beer lobby, representing the state's distributors.

It came to a head in this spring's legislative session when the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association opposed a bill that would have allowed craft brewers to sell their suds direct to consumers by the half-gallon, in 64-ounce jugs known as "growlers."
Can someone help me understand why we need regulations on the size of beer servings?  What is the magic of 64 ounces over 60 ounces or 72 ounces?

Lots of flavorful craft beers
Tampa is gaining recognition among craft brew aficionados as a top 5 craft beer destination, including Cigar City, among several others, such as Tampa Bay Brewing Company, Tampa Cold Storage, Barley Mow Brewing Company in Largo, Saint Somewhere Brewing Company in Tarpon Springs, Peg's Cantina & Brew Pub in Gulfport, New World Brewery in Ybor City and Mr. Dunderbak's and Four Green Fields in Tampa.

Seems like this could  be some small businesses we can all support and enjoy.

Do we have some Bloombergology moving from the soda wars now invading beer?
[Adam Rubin, executive director of the Florida Beer Wholesalers Association... "Big Beer"] points to a bill that passed this year, allowing the state's craft liquor distillers to directly sell two bottles per customer per year, as "conscious policy making."

"If you're going to have an exception, the question becomes, what is the nature and extent of that exception?" he said. "This is a legitimate public policy debate."
Well maybe... 2 bottles of beer a year?!  Hold me back!

But no, this is really not a new temperance movement.

So what's up?
The Florida Brewers Guild, which represents craft brewers and brewpubs, this year supported the half-gallon growler bill (HB 715/SB 1344).

In March, Sen. Maria Sachs, a Delray Beach Democrat, offered an amendment to the Senate bill. The Florida Beer Wholesalers Association had contributed $2,000 to Sachs' 2012 campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The amendment would have allowed half-gallon growlers, as well as take-home sales by "startup breweries."

But it also would have required breweries taking advantage of the exception to have "at least 25 enclosed acres of land," "a controlled entrance and exit," "permanent exhibitions and a variety of recreational activities" and "at least 1 million visitors annually (who) pay admission fees."

In other words, the legal exception-which had never explicitly mentioned theme parks-would almost certainly apply only to them and not to craft brewers.
So, Sen Maria Sachs (D), bought off by Big Beer, craftily offers some legislature to eliminate local craft brewers options to sell more of the product.  She's against small business.

At least nothing was passed restricting craft brewers this year in Tallahassee.  But there's always next year!

What is Big Beer afraid of?

Are they afraid of their consumers discovery the mass marketed, heavily advertised bland, watered down, flavorless beer they've offered all these years really does not hold a candle against a well crafted micro-brew?

Are they afraid people will actually like the new brew?

Are they afraid of the competition?
Cigar City's beers, which have won national and global awards, have gained a national following since debuting in 2009, including its 'Jai Alai' India pale ale and 'Maduro' brown ale. About 1,500 people a week visit the Spruce Street brewery. Its yearly beer release party-Hunahpu's Day, named after the Mayan god of chocolate-attracts thousands, and [Joey] Redner now employs 52 people.

Both sides expect to butt heads again next session. And retail sales and tasting rooms at breweries will continue to be a sore point for Big Beer.

"That's where we can tell our story," Redner said. "And if our story wasn't compelling - and our product wasn't so good - we wouldn't be here."
Thanks.  I'll have another round.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Common Sense Reverses Bad Policy Change by BOCC

Apparently, some "ire" was raised with the Hillsborough County Commissioners regarding a policy change to prohibit candidates form serving on volunteer committees and boards. As a result, the Commissioners voted yesterday to reverse that policy change they voted on at the previous Commission meeting. According to the Tampa Bay Times:
Reversing a vote from two weeks ago, county commissioners Wednesday dropped a proposal to deny candidates for elected office from serving on appointed boards.
The Commissioners were reminded they serve on numerous important commissions and agencies with significant and direct influence and remain on them even when they are candidates. It was also pointed out the true intent of the policy change was targeted at Conservative School Board candidate Terry Kemple to specifically prohibit him from serving on the so-called Diversity Panel and remove him from the committee he currently serves on. 

Kemple strongly believes in those "radical" traditional family values, we know them as those values our country was founded on. Believers in traditional values are now the 21st Century insurgents and according to some they must not be tolerated. But smarter heads prevailed yesterday and the result of this reversal according to the Times:
Conservative activist and School Board candidate Terry Kemple will retain his eligibility to serve on appointed Hillsborough County panels.
Terry Kemple, Candidate for School Board
Here at the Eye we always believed this policy change was a solution looking for a problem where none exists. We saw this policy as creating a double standard that elevated "them" above everyday citizens - you and me and we oppose the targeting of any constituents solely because of their beliefs. We've witnessed enough of that recently. We are glad that common sense prevailed yesterday and we thank the Commissioners for reversing bad policy.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tampa Bay Times 2nd swing, gets it half right

The Tampa Bay Times was shamed enough to at least update in their blog the article I referenced in my post on Friday.  However, Bill Varian still got things only half right in his post on TBT's Political Buzz blog "Calvert objects to claims she misused committee appointment".
A primary challenger to Republican Victor Crist's Hillsborough County Commission reelection campaign last year says she objects to accusations she used an appointment to the county's Citizens Advisory Committee as a soapbox for her campaign. 
First, it should be noted, Crist appointed Calvert after hearing rumors she might challenge his reelection in 2012, which the Times has previously reported.
First, let's look at the timeline. Crist appointed me at the beginning of 2011, long before I was thinking of running for office. After the 2010 rail tax referendum and what I saw from some of our county agencies, I wanted to learn more about how our county government operated and serve in a capacity to make it operate better.  On January 28, 2012, the Tampa Bay Times wrote this (whatever "whispered" means....):
Calvert, of Lutz, is whispered as a prospective challenger to Crist for the County Commission, though she's not saying if she will pursue his seat or another.
I was appointed and served on the Citizens Advisory Committee over a year before I decided to run. Crist could not have appointed me after hearing rumors I might challenge him in 2012 because there were no such rumors in 2011. I filed to run in March 2012.

Second, Bill Varian adds a small reference to Terry Kemple at the end of his update:
The move is seen as a move by some commissioners to keepTerry Kemple, an anti-gay-rights activist and school board candidate, from serving on a proposed diversity committee to which he has sought appointment.
However, Bill misses the real story regarding Commissioner Miller using me as his scapegoat for his "ire" against Kemple.  As stated in my previous post:
Instead of Commissioner Miller admitting that his proposal to prohibit candidates from serving on voluntary committees was specifically aimed at Terry Kemple, he deceptively used me as the example. Commissioner Miller proposed an end around to his own previous procedural maneuver to prohibit Terry Kemple from serving on any committee.
Instead of pointing to me, Bill Varian should have asked Commissioner Miller why he used me as his scapegoat to target Terry Kemple? And why didn't Bill ask Commissioner Miller why he was doing an end around his previous procedural maneuver to keep Terry Kemple off of the Diversity Panel and also to throw Terry off a committee he has been serving on for years?
Third, County Commissioners themselves comprise the entire board of the Environmental Protection Commission and they serve individually on many agency boards, committees and authorities.  Do they ever try to promote "their" agenda while serving?  So the County Commissioners want to prohibit and remove citizens who currently serve or want to serve on volunteer citizen committees and decide to become a candidate. Then the Commissioners too need to be removed from their committee assignments when they file to run for re-election and become a candidate.  Think they use their committee assignment influence during their campaigns? 

Time to start taking away the benefits of "incumbency"!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Times: Transit talks must ignore the facts

Rail cheerleaders Tampa Bay Times recycled yet another pro-rail editorial.
Three years have passed since voters rejected a transit referendum in Hillsborough County, and since then rail advocates have all but apologized and promised not to bring back another package anytime soon. That was the wrong reaction, but the elected leadership from the county and its cities are taking a positive step by reviving transportation talks. Now those talks need direction and a sense of urgency. Mass transit, including rail, must be part of the discussion if Hillsborough hopes to compete for business and improve its quality of life.
Emphasis mine.  They conveniently overlook costs associated with rail.  In fact, they never deal with the costs, and who pays issues.
This history matters, because some officials are drawing the wrong lessons from 2010 as an excuse to dial back the extent that mass transit and new revenue need to play. That completely misreads the message from voters, who suggested they wanted another crack at an improved transit package down the road.
Who's misreading... misrepresenting... the message from the voters, who rejected the Hillsborough County referendum by a 60% - 40% margin?  What they are likely referring to is a MPO survey, that was touted for some 58% may consider some light rail projects (but no costs were mentioned as part of the survey).  And what they don't tell you, is that light rail was #12 on the list... way behind priorities roads, bridges, road improvements... favored by 96% of the survey respondents.
MPO Survey
And that timidity is drawing new fire from young professionals and entrepreneurs — the very talent the county and city are spending public money to attract — who see the stalling as a larger problem of weak and uninspired leadership.
Granted, there is an emerging activist thread in the younger, professional community this days to have the taxpayers subsidized their preferred mode of transportation. But its also true that these same "younger, professional community" are burdened by high college debt, a poor job market, and if they want to live downtown, high rents.  Perhaps when the economy improves, or settle down and raise a family, move to the suburbs, they can afford a car, and they'll drive more.  That's the history.  But I really don't understand why we need to dramatically subsidize their transportation now, and you weren't for subsidizing my transportation.
However unpopular a discussion over taxes might be, the reality is that Hillsborough doesn't have enough revenue to address even the backlog in road projects. And while the transit system has deteriorated since 2010, the political climate for fixing it has improved. These talks need to seize the moment.
Emphasis mine.  So help me understand...  We don't have enough money to address the current backlog in road, bridges, and safety improvements that 96% of us want fixed, yet they want us to spend more and commit much more future tax revenues on a rail system that will not be operational for a decade or more, and will do nothing to relieve congestion?   We understand the roads backlog issue, and it needs to be resolved, and it may indeed  require additional tax revenues to address.  But lets not add more big spending we don't need in these uncertain economic times.

The younger, professional community is depending on an improving economy.  Taking more money out of their pockets is not a good start.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Bullying ... by the principal

More abuse by the bureaucracy, this time at Wharton High School.
Wharton High salutatorian Harold Shaw Jr. spent weeks writing a graduation speech he hoped would inspire his classmates to pursue their lifelong dreams.
Unfortunately, his farewell address to the Wharton Class of 2013 will likely be remembered more for the remarks he didn't get a chance to make.
Wharton Principal Brad Woods pulled the plug on Shaw about halfway through his speech at the graduation ceremony in the Florida State Fairgrounds' Expo Hall on Monday.
Shaw, who graduated with a 7.31 grade point average, was forced to sit down and did not receive his diploma at the ceremony like the other graduates.
A 7.31 GPA?! Holy Sh$#!
He was asked to leave the Expo Hall after the graduation, Shaw said. He was escorted out by two Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies who worked security at the event.
Who was threatened? Was Harold Shaw violent?  Or where they protecting him?

But besides that, what did he do to deserve getting yanked?  Tell dirty jokes? Talk too long? Say a prayer?

Well, it's really not clear in the article.
Though he was allowed to pick up his diploma at Wharton two days later, Shaw, 17, is still not sure why he was cut off.
Shaw believes it may be retaliation for a short film he produced and posted on his personal Facebook page to draw attention what he described as unsanitary conditions in the boys' bathrooms at the high school.
"I think it's revenge," Shaw said during an interview at his attorney's office Wednesday. 
He's a dirty bathroom counter-revolutionary!  Sanitary conditions shall not be tolerated!
Woods, who declined to comment, asked a reporter to contact the Hillsborough County School District's communications office for a statement.

Woods directed Shaw's microphone be shut off because he had diverted from his speech, Hillsborough County schools spokesman Stephen Hegarty said. It was a decision the principal made to keep the ceremony on track, he said.
 Mr. Big, hiding behind the bureaucracy.  Could Woods not find his Momma's skirt to hide behind?  Not feeling so tough now?
Shaw and his attorney Tom Parnell said Shaw did not stray from the prepared address.
"I watched the video and read the speech," Parnell said. "It was fantastic.
"He didn't go off topic; he just stumbled a little."
Read the whole thing.

Just when you thought it couldn't get any more stupider...

Politics over Principles on the Hillsborough County Commission

I was surprised to wake up Thursday, read the Tampa Bay Times and see my name referenced in the middle of a political battle that I have no stake in. 
"The fact of the matter is that we have seen people that we appoint to these boards … become candidates and used those boards to put forth their platform when they should not be doing that," said Commissioner Les Miller, who proposed the measure.
Miller, a Democrat, cited as an example, though not by name, a Republican primary challenger to sitting Commissioner Victor Crist last year.
Crist had appointed Sharon Calvert to the county's main citizen's advisory panel and Miller claimed Calvert used the appointment to advance her campaign and denigrate Crist.
The more I read the article, the more I realized I was the scapegoat so the County Commissioners would not have to deal with a conservative voice, Terry Kemple, on the Diversity Panel.

Terry Kemple, Candidate for Hillsborough County School Board
So what really happened at Wednesday's County Commission meeting?

The Commissioners unanimously repealed the ban on gay pride recognition. According to this Tampa Tribune article Commissioners Kevin Beckner and Les Miller both touted the argument of discrimination and that everyone deserves to be treated fairly, equally and with respect.

Then, according to this Tampa Bay Times article, Les Miller proposed the following that the Commission voted 5-1 (Victor Crist the lone vote against, thank you Commissioner Crist, and Al Higginbotham who had stepped out did not vote) to
“prohibit declared candidates for office from serving on county boards and councils to which commissioners appoint representatives. The policy amendment also requires people already serving on an appointed board to report their candidacy for office so that commissioners can vote to remove them.”
So much for treating everyone fairly and with respect ALL the time. The TBT article included a picture of Conservative School Board candidate Terry Kemple who appears to be at the epicenter of Commissioner Miller's proposal and wrath.

Miller's proposal came up two weeks after socially conservative activist Terry Kemple sought a position on a proposed diversity advisory panel.

Miller insists he's not targeting Kemple, but the eligibility change would appear to disqualify him from consideration.

On May 15th the County Commission voted 4-3 to support Kemple's appointment to the new Diversity panel. After the vote, this Tampa Bay Times article reported:
That's when Democrat Les Miller pulled a procedural maneuver. Having made the original motion to approve the appointment list without Kemple, he then moved to table its final approval indefinitely. Hagan joined that bloc, joining Miller, Beckner and Republican Commissioner Mark Sharpe in agreeing to table a vote.
Prevailing commissioners can bring the matter back up later.
Instead of Commissioner Miller admitting that his proposal to prohibit candidates from serving on voluntary committees was specifically aimed at Terry Kemple, he deceptively used me as the example. Commissioner Miller proposed an end around to his own previous procedural maneuver to prohibit Terry Kemple from serving on any committee. Though Commissioner Miller did not mention me by name, come on Les – I was the only primary challenger to Victor Crist, he did so indirectly. Recall from Bill Varian's article:
Crist had appointed Sharon Calvert to the county's main citizen's advisory panel and Miller claimed Calvert used the appointment to advance her campaign and denigrate Crist.
Really? Granted there are no direct quotes from Commissioner Miller so we are left wondering if Bill Varian took liberty with something else Commissioner Miller may have said, either at the Commission meeting or afterwards when Varian spoke to Miller. But please Bill, as I told you, next time you use me as an example, call me to ensure you have your facts straight. I don't appreciate waking up to an article calling me out with false innuendo. And Commissioner Miller, shame on you if you even hinted at such an accusation.

Let's set the record straight:

When I decided to run, I immediately called Commissioner Victor Crist to let him know. I asked him if he would like me to resign from the Citizens Advisory Committtee he had appointed me to. He not only said “No”, he gave reasons why I should stay. So I decided to stay and continue my citizen volunteer duties on the Citizens Advisory Committee. I subsequently resigned July 12th due to what I saw was a conflict of interest that occurred with the non-profit sub-committee I was serving on with the CAC. The non-profit sub-committee was established to reform how non-profit funding was provided in the County. The non-profit funding had evolved since the 1980's and there was very little accountability and discipline for how these dollars were doled out. The conflict of interest arose when the Executive Director of a non-profit that Commissioner Crist had founded and chaired was appointed to the sub-committee. These additional appointments to the subcommittee were requested by Les Miller and Victor Crist after we had been working on this issue for over 8 months. Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars have been directed to Victor's nonprofit over the years Commissioner Crist served in the state legislature and as County Commissioner. I thought that a conflict of interest for a sub-committee who's goal was to reform the non-profit funding process.

Now let's connect the dots of hypocrisy:
  1. The Commissioners all agree - treat everyone fairly and equally and do not discriminate
  2. 5 of the commissioners vote to prohibit candidates from serving on boards – and it's the Commissioners themselves who make the appointments. Certainly they can manage their own committee appointments as the commissioners are paid $92K/year. And if you decide to run while on a committee, the County Commission can decide to remove you. How's that for treating everyone fairly and equally?
  3. There's no problem appointing the Executive Director from a non-profit that has received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars that was founded and chaired by a sitting County Commissioner, to a committee trying to reform taxpayer non-profit funding. That's OK.
  4. Last but not least is Commissioner Miller 's deception. Commissioner Miller had pulled a procedural maneuver to prevent Terry Kemple from being appointed to the Diversity panel by delaying the panel and then he proposes policy changes that totally prohibits candidate Kemple from being appointed to any committee.
Instead of pointing to me, Bill Varian should have asked Commissioner Miller why he used me as his scapegoat to target Terry Kemple? And why didn't Bill ask Commissioner Miller why he was doing an end around his previous procedural maneuver to keep Terry Kemple off of the Diversity Panel and also to throw Terry off a committee he has been serving on for years?

The answer – it was a pathetic political manipulation to limit the ability for someone who's opinion Miller disagrees with to serve his community. Government officials are now targeting individuals solely because of their beliefs.
What are they afraid of?  Regardless of what one may think of Terry Kemple's politics, are you next?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Teacher running for school board gets fired

From the Tampa Bay Times,
Michael Weston, the outspoken math teacher and Hillsborough County School Board candidate, has lost his job.
The district upheld the Freedom High School principal's decision not to keep Weston on the faculty in a process known as "renomination."
Michael Weston, educator, professional, running for School Board
We met and talked with Weston briefly on the campaign trail in 2012.  He's sincere, committed, and brings a real-life experience and background into the classroom.  And he's not afraid to confront failure.
Weston, 57, had established a reputation as a critic of the administration and board member Candy Olson, who represents the South Tampa district where Weston is running. Olson, in turn, read the anonymous letter about Weston out loud during a televised board meeting. She is not seeking another term.
Gutless Candy Olson, part of the HCSB establishment, shirking her responsibility, cannot even confront her opponents.  
"What kind of teachers do they want more than anything now? STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). And they got rid of me."
Weston's backround is in IT consulting, with advanced science degrees.  Life in the real world, with the experience we should be sharing... and educating our next generation.  But apparently not if you don't agree with the HCSB line.

Apparently teachers can be fired... not for incompetence in this case, but for not touting the bureaucracy's line.

Do I smell a witch hunt?

Michael Weston's campaign web site is here.  Consider signing his petition, get a yard sign, make a contribution.

I'm not sure if I'll agree with everything that Mr. Weston does, but I do know we need more like him on the school board.

Pinellas looking to get even more dense

According to the Tampa Bay Times,
One of the key arguments for building a light rail system in Pinellas County is that it would kick start urban renewal. People could live closer together, walk to buy their morning coffee and take the train to work.
But for any of that to happen, the county's antiquated land use and zoning policies need to be rewritten, a process county officials have already begun. 
Of course, tied to light rail, and transit oriented development... although they never use those words.
Pinellas County

Pinellas is already the most densely populated county in Florida, with only about 6% open, undeveloped space.  But apparently its not dense enough.  Not dense enough to to make light rail feasible.  But they have a plan for that!
Developers would be encouraged to build commercial properties next door to or on the ground floor of residential buildings. New buildings could sit closer to the street instead of placing vast parking lots between their front doors and foot traffic. And, if commissioners approve, the county might increase the number of units allowed per acre.
Oh joy!  You too can have an $200/sq foot condo conveniently located above a tiki bar open until 3am, next to a train stop running until 3am.  Talk a about a premium location!

Some folks may want to live that way.  Many more will not.

So let's get this right.  They want to cram more people into the already densest populated county in the state, develop and redevelop more, to the benefit of developers, waste more money for ineffective transit that few will ride, and will be subsidized by the taxpayers forever, under the mission of transit oriented development and light rail.

Got it!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bus toll lanes coming your way?

The Trib is reporting Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority hopes to test bus toll lanes.
The Tampa Hillsborough County Expressway Authority is proposing a pilot project to create a bus toll lane on a segment of a local limited access highway.
"We'd like to make a proposal in Washington by the end of summer," Joe Waggoner, THEA's executive director, told the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization on Tuesday.
THEA would seek a partnership with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority and the U.S. Department of Transportation to test the concept, whose location has not been determined.
It could take another 24 months for planning and design once pilot project funding is obtained from federal and possibly local sources.
Sounds like this is headed in the right direction to us here at the Eye. South Florida has been successful with something similar, with congestion pricing "Lexus lanes" on I-95, which has improved the traffic flow on I-95.
I-95 Bus tool lanes in Miami
Those who can pay the toll, get a faster ride.  Those cars are off the main I-95 traffic flow, so those who don't pay, also benefit with a better ride as well.  Win win.
The bus toll lane is a dedicated lane for transit that also allows other vehicles to use the restricted lane by paying a toll.
A price-management system adjusts toll costs for nontransit users to increase or decrease based on traffic flow to prevent traffic congestion.
We like the basic idea -- price management, or congestion pricing is fine with us.  We don't like the notion of dedicated transit only lanes, which will impede non-transit traffic so this seems to be in the right direction.  Hopefully they will implement the new bus toll lanes as net new capacity, and not cannibalize existing roads.
Bus toll lanes would be owned by the transit agency, which provides the agency with a revenue source.
Does the transit agency (HART), receive all the toll revenue?  With about a $3B backlog in road safety, maintenance and improvements in Hillsborough County, we think the drivers who pay the toll would rather their money go towards road improvements, that the buses, and 98% of use every day, not just transit.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mark Sharpe goes after HART CEO

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe says it's time for HART CEO Philip Hale to go.
 Sharpe accuses Hale of "uninspired, unimaginative leadership," and says that the board needs someone new at the helm in order for it to pursue a more ambitious direction.
When asked for reaction, Hale responded that the board just extended his contract last month for two more years, and that there was no opposition. (Sharpe was absent from the meeting.) "The direction I received from most of the other board members is that they are supportive of me," Hale says. He added that if the board did want him to step down, he'd do so.
So let's get this straight.  A powerful, sitting Hillsborough County Commissioner is publicly calling for the resignation of the HART CEO, two months after his contract was renewed, a meeting which Commissioner Sharpe was too busy to be concerned with, while not indicating any malfeasance or concrete non-performance issues, other than "uninspired, unimaginative leadership"?

Talk about some chutzpah.  Why does he not come out and say it, that he wants Philip Hale gone since Hale has not come out as pro light rail?  That's Sharpe's definition of "imaginative leadership"... spending someone else's money down a rat hole of light rail.

Sharpe's "imaginative leadership" imagines all sorts of economic magical thinking around the miracle of light rail, while ignoring the costs and the time it will take to deliver any rail oriented transit solution to our immediate transportation relief needs. Keep on dreaming... but it's not reality.

Sharpe is abusing his leadership position to publicly undermine the tough job that Hale has undertaken.  Hale had to rebuild HART after the 2010 transportation referendum disaster,  reinvigorate the staff, remediate HART finances, and improve services.  HART ridership is up, at record levels.  The new MetroRapid is off to a great start.   If it continues its success and is expanded further in Hillsborough County, MetroRapid will put a big dent in the hopes of the rail fanatics.  Is that another reason Sharpe has come of for Hale's head? 
There are sometimes discussion at HART meetings about adding a feature or a new service, but the conversation often gets stifled because of the lack of available funding. Sharpe says he's tired of hearing that line used all the time.
"That’s always the excuse," he says, agreeing that the agency has limited resources, but also saying that he believes there are "tremendous opportunities if we look at citizens as partners, and the businesses here as partners, and we are not afraid to fail or make a mistake." Sharpe says that he's particularly frustrated that attempts to get Wi-Fi on buses hasn't taken hold.
I thought Sharpe was an idea guy, not a complainer.  Here he is making excuses since he can't come with an idea to get wi-fi on busses.

Here's one from the Eye:  Get local businesses, such as those on HART routes, to underwrite the cost of wi-fi on the buses.  They can advertise on the "I accept" page and offer deals and electronic coupons. For extra credit, they can use GPS and location based services to drive the ad directly for business near the upcoming stop. [Credit EyeOnTampaBay].
The County Commissioner, who was one of the leading advocates for the transit tax for light rail three years ago, added that it's time to "throw out the playbook that has gotten us to where we are now and reconsider it all." Sharpe also said, "We need to do everything we’re doing, and reconsider it all, every stop, every bus, where it’s going, how it’s serving the citizens, are we committed 100 percent with all the passion we’ve got to get you where you want to go quickly? Are we going to provide you with the conveniences that you need, in order to make you really want to ride that bus again? Are we looking at you as a customer, not as a number, or a person who just rides the bus? I think that’s going to require inspirational leadership."
Ideas please.
Hale told CL that the board decided on its own to extend his original contract (it was due to expire in November). "I didn't ask for the extension," he says.
Good thing Hale got that extension.  He may have some political waters to navigate soon.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Making Ashley Drive a complete street?

There's an emerging movement towards "complete streets" in Tampa Bay.  Complete streets are beautiful, and more suitable for all modes of transportation -- walking, biking, transit, etc. And cars.

But, typically, there is only so much space for a road, so there's some trade offs.

Do you want lots of beautiful landscaping, or do you want it to be maintained for a affordable cost?

Do you the road to be most efficient for moving people where they want to go, or do you prefer having lots of "choices"?

If you add a lane for lightly used bicycling, and remove a lane for cars, have you helped the community?

These are just some of the trade offs one must be aware of... and eventually make, if we want complete streets.  It's not always worked out so well here Hillsboroough County.  Last year, the county wanted to cut down beautiful trees and landscaping in Lutz, on US-41, since it was getting too costly to maintain.  And that was just some median landscaping.  At least there's been some ongoing discussion to save the trees since the county wanted to cut them down.  [Disclosure... we live in Lutz].

Median trees in Lutz marked for destruction
The Trib weighed in today on the subject, since City of Tampa wants to make Ashley Drive more green, beautiful, etc.
There is much to like about Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa. Its sloping expanse of grass and proximity to the river make it an appealing venue for organized events and casual strolls alike.

Getting to the park can be far less appealing. Visitors who don’t park in the garages west of Ashley Drive are left to negotiate four lanes of two-way traffic, risking life and limb. The same is true for workers and residents who leave their offices and homes for lunch or exercise.

Which is why we embrace Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s plan to slow traffic on Ashley Drive, with one proviso: It doesn’t worsen what is already an annoying backup for downtown commuters on most days of the week.
Are there any options to improve traffic flow for the 30,000 vehicles a day on Ashley?  Silence...
Under the plan the city is implementing, the Ashley Drive lanes leading into and out of downtown Tampa will be squeezed to make room for parking spaces and bicycle lanes. Altering the road’s design is expected to cause motorists to slow down, making it safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.
So let's acknowledge that vast vast majority of the 30,000 vehicles per day will not be converted to bicyclists any time soon.  The traffic will necessarily slow down.  How does this help commuters?
Buckhorn says the changes are not expected to worsen the commute. He points out that the changes are supported by the state Department of Transportation, which would not have signed off on a plan that impedes vehicular traffic.

We certainly hope so.
We'll need a little more than hope.   But the design its telling us something completely different.

We need to add better, safer options for transit, including bicycles.  We biked 31 miles yesterday, so consider us cycling fans.  We bike mostly on trails, so we don't have to deal with the cars. Its a safety issue for us, and the roads around here should be made better and safer... for bikers, and cars.  But reducing vehicle access, creating congestion only increases risks to bikers and cars, and makes the vast majority of car only drivers who never convert bikes more frustrated and angry at bikers.  That's not a good formula for long term success.

Tribune confuses model trains and light rail

Just when you think the Tribune can't get any more stupid on this ongoing light rail boondoggle, they go way way out of their way to consult with model train enthusiasts on their expertise regarding light rail.
Hobbyists and vendors at the Tampa Model Train Show & Sale bought and sold trinkets and artifacts and just about anything else related to the railroad.

Missing from the event was a real train; a passenger train that runs every day in and out of Tampa, stopping at malls, sports arenas and even the fairgrounds where the model train show was taking place.
Missing from the article was common sense.

Tribune's version of light rail.
Exactly what qualifies model train enthusiasts as experts in transportation solutions? Could it be that both are only of interest to those with great sense of nostalgia over practicality?  Or could it be that they have experience in spending money on a boondoogle  hobby?

So, let me get this straight.  The Trib covers a toy train conference (thanks for coming to Tampa!), spends about 3/4 of the article turning it into a referendum on light rail.
Gordon Hartranft traveled from his home in Ohio to attend the annual show in Tampa and was attuned to the rail travails in Florida and Tampa. He said commuter rail here is not a good idea.

“It’s the biggest money losing proposition going,” he said. Cities where commuter rail have emerged in recent years are struggling over the initial and operating costs.

“I try to take the pragmatic view,” he said. “It’s just so expensive.”
At least Keith Morelli found someone with some sense at the toy train conference.

This is just the latest effort from the Trib to spin their local coverage towards the impracticality of light rail.