There's lots of noise these days, including from here at the Eye, other local media and some elected officials, regarding our infamous Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission aka the PTC. And last week brought some more turbulence to the PTC with the resignation of its Executive Director, Cesar Padilla. Padilla made $107,000 and decided to moonlight at the same time to bring in more bacon, but somehow left out the moonlighting bacon from his finanical disclosure. In fact, Padilla resigned just as he was trying to negotiate a new contract at a higher rate with PTC Chairman County Commissioner Victor Crist.
Padilla, who is paid just more than $107,000 by the PTC, was negotiating a new contract with that board's chairman, County Commissioner Victor Crist. Padilla was seeking a pay hike because a proposed contract provision would have forced him to forgo outside work, Crist said. During those discussions, Padilla told Crist he had been doing security work.
Crist was surprised to find out in January that Padilla wrote his own exemplary and excellent performance evaluation. Then Crist finds out about Padilla's moonlighting and his financial disclosure snafu and Crist is talking about a raise for Padilla. That is absurd. In the private sector, there's a good chance Padilla would be fired.
Former County Commissioner Kevin White, who was previously Chairman of the PTC, went to prison on federal corruption charges for taking bribes from a towing company who wanted a piece of the PTC regulated actions. And guess how Padilla became Executive Director, a position he was not even qualified for at the time? The Tribune reported this:
It was White who pushed to elevate Padilla, then PTC chief inspector, to director of the agency. White won board approval to make Padilla interim director and to raise his salary from $40,000 to $106,360. Padilla later was given the job full time, though he was still working on his college diploma, a requirement for the directorship.
As the saying goes, where there's smoke, there's fire.
In addition to Padilla resigning last week, a lawsuit was filed with regards to the $50 minimum charge that limousine services must charge due to PTC rules and regulations. A press conference was held last Thursday announcing this lawsuit and the Eye was there.
Justin Pearson, who is the Executive Director of the FL chapter of the Institute for Justice (IJ) began the press conference explaining that IJ is a national public interest law firm that litigates in 4 key areas: property rights, school choice, free speech and economic liberty. IJ filed this lawsuit against the PTC and Victor Crist, in his official capacity as Chairman of the PTC, on behalf of Thomas Halsnik who owns a local limousine service, Black Pearl Limousines and limousine customers Kenrick Geckler and Daniel Faubion.
The $50 minimum charge, no matter how short the ride, violates the FL Constitution because it makes it illegal for businesses to offer a better deal to their customers. The minimum charge violates the spirit of competition that hurts business owners, their employees and consumers.
After the press conference, the Eye spoke with Pearson and a couple of the Plaintiffs.
The Institute for Justice lawsuit is solely focused on the $50 minimum charge. The limo driver wants to be abe to price shorter rides and offer deals just like other businesses do everyday. The consumer, of course, wants to be able to negotiate those deals. IJ continues to and has successfully litigated similar economic liberty lawsuits throughout the country. Getting rid of this minimum charge sounds like a win win for business and consumers so we will be watching as this lawsuit proceeds. A bit noisy that day, but here's the entire IJ press conference.
But there are numerous issues with the PTC in its current state. The PTC was created 30 years ago and once government bureaucracies and regulations are in place, it is difficult to get rid of them no matter how archaic or burdensome they become. Transportation is a hot issue today and we should embrace private sector innovative transportation solutions not prohibit or inhibit them. No elected officials should be on a regulatory commission. That is an invitation for unethical and corrupt activities which this commission has experienced enough of. We all want common sense safety regulations and background checks. We do not need the heavy hand of the PTC picking winners and losers, stifling competition and innovation, and politicizing all of these shared vehicle services - taxi cabs, limos, towing and ambulance services.
Today there is growing public outcry over the PTC and now a lawsuit. The PTC cannot be salvaged as it stands today. It's time to exterminate it.