Thursday, September 12, 2013

Abbott and Costello take over the PTC circus

The Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission aka PTC comedy troupe was on full display at yesterdays PTC meeting. With all the recent PTC drama, I decided to attend and had no idea what to expect.  I did take my video camera – ready for the action or rather the entertainment value it ended up being. From the start of the meeting, I wondered if I was watching the Abbott and Costello comedy duo.  The bureaucratic waste was apparent.  Who was running this show was even more obvious, County Commissioner Victor Crist who Chairs the PTC. There was a lot of bumbling and confusion throughout this entire meeting.  Are all the PTC meetings like this?

First of all the PTC is an Independent Special District that was created by the state legislature decades ago to regulate shared vehicle services – taxi cabs, limos, towing and ambulance services. It's the only commission like it that exists in the state – in other words 66 other counties and almost the entire rest of the country have figured out how to do this internally without creating another bureaucracy. In addition, this bureaucratic nightmare is politicized because three elected county commissioners sit on it:  Crist the Chairman, Ken Hagan and Les Miller. It's the circle of money that buys influence and votes as the campaign donations circulate through the elected officials coffers and protects certain companies, inhibits others and has enabled corruption and unethical activities. Remember it wasn't just the corruption case of former Chair of the PTC Commissioner Kevin White who's in prison today. In the late 1990's there was another publicized scandal regarding ambulance permits and the attempt to put an ambulance service out of business.

For transparency, I did make a public comment at this meeting stating it cannot be salvaged as it stands today.  The Eye has previously reported about the PTC Here and Here. The PTC meetings are televised on HTV and for anyone who wants to watch this episode of Abbott and Costello, it will be replayed Friday at 10am. You can watch the comedy unfold in its entirety, but there were a couple of interesting moments at yesterdays meeting.

A snafu occurred regading the latest agenda PTC Chair Crist was using that was not sent out to the other board members or sent out publicly prior to the meeting. This agenda item related to TransCare (ambulance service), which appeared to be a somewhat controversial item. So some sparring went on between Crist and Miller that reminded me of Abbott and Costello's famous "Who's on First" comedy routine. It lasted for about 10 minutes. Miller was insisting that Rogers Rules of Order must be followed regarding the agenda issue because there's no PTC rules that exist to guide otherwise. Victor was calling Miller an obstructionist.  Who's on first? The PTC's been around for decades and they don't have standard operating procedures for how their meetings are conducted?  

The biggest drama of the day came when Commissioner Les Miller suddenly stood up and abruptly stated he had to leave and was resigning effective immediately from the PTC.  I looked around and it did not seem to me that this board or anyone in the audience was expecting that to unfold.

No reason was given at the time Miller abruptly resigned but the Tribune reported
Miller said he was fed up with what he called a roughshod abuse of customary meeting protocols by commission Chairman Victor Crist. A stickler for Roberts Rules of Order, Miller said Crist was making up the rules as he went along. 
He can’t seem to rein it in,” Miller said after the meeting.
But the “straw that broke the camel’s back,” Miller said, occurred at Wednesday’s meeting when Crist attempted to schedule a discussion on a divisive ambulance service matter that was added to the agenda late Tuesday afternoon. The new agenda was supposed to have been emailed to PTC members, but none had seen it. 
After Miller abruptly resigned and walked out, Crist stated that he had wanted to ask Miller to chair the search committee for the new Executive Director.  So instead Crist turned to the newest member of the commission and asked him to chair the search committee.  I sat there wondering if that was intentional........ However, the newest member politely responded he's so new he has only attended two meetings and basically "doesn't know enough" to chair a search committee though he would participate.  Next Crist turned to fellow commissioner Ken Hagan who was in and out of the meeting but happened to be there at the time. Hagan jokingly stated that he knew he should have stepped out then but he  politely stated he has enough on his plate as chairman of the BOCC but would participate.  Crist turned to one of the remaining board members who finally accepted to chair the search committee.  It must've been the second act of the "Who's on First" comedy routine.

This commission is supposedly independent of any particular government entity. However, the PTC is chaired by a County Commissioner, three elected county commissioners sit on it and they subcontract their legal services from the County Attorney's office. They voted yesterday to temporarily move some county employees over to fill the interim Executive Director and administrative positions as they search for a new Executive Director. They voted to give the county employees taking on some temporary support of the PTC a temporary 25% raise. What a deal! The private sector's been in perpetual downsizing for years (decades) but do you think those employees who temporarily (or sometimes permanently) take over additional responsibilities get an automatic 25% raise?  So the county is knee deep (or deeper) in this commission - how independent is it?  

Get this, the previous Executive Director, Cesar Padilla, got to retire.  Cesar was put in that position by the former PTC Chair and commissioner now in prison, Kevin White. Cesar was in that position for 6 years. We recently found out that even though he was paid $107,000 to do something, (we don't know exactly what because he had no employment contract) he was moonlighting.  Cesar failed to disclose his moonlighting income, called in sick when he was moonlighting (lied) and sometimes moonlighted when he was supposed to be working (more lies) and he gets to retire.  And at your expense I guess.  Is that another Abbott and Costello mishap?

It was striking to hear from some in the industries regulated by the PTC stating they wanted to keep status quo.  However, status quo burdensome regulations and bureaucracy can be used to protect certain companies and special interests who benefit from them.  With so much talk from our local elected officials, our media, those pushing economic development in Hillsborough county, do we want to be known as the county of status quo? I don't think so.

This bumbling meeting sure seemed like a a waste of time and resources but at least there was the entertainment value.  I've got the camera recharged and ready as we await the next episode of the Abbott and Costello comedy hour.  Who's on first?

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