Friday, February 28, 2014

Who is TBARTA?

Much attention has been brought to the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) and it's chairman Ronnie Duncan, who recently resigned from the private advocacy campaign "Yes for Greenlight" due to public pressure. 

The Eye decided it is time to take a closer look at TBARTA and recently interviewed local citizens activist Ken Roberts to discuss who TBARTA is and what do they do.

TBARTA's website describes it's creation in 2007
The Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) was created by the Florida State Legislature in 2007 to develop and implement a Regional Transportation Master Plan for the seven-county West Central Florida region consisting of Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota Counties. 
The TBARTA Board is made up of representatives from the seven counties, four largest cities, the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), Business Community, and Florida Department of Transportation. The Board meets regularly to discuss implementing a Regional Transportation Master Plan.
TBARTA's 2050 Master Plan
It is interesting that TBARTA was setup to cover the same geographic area that the Tampa Bay Partnership covered at the time.  Tampa Bay Partnership has since added Polk County and now it is anticipated that Polk County will soon be joining TBARTA and become the 8th county under TBARTA.  Apparently this was not coincidental because according to this Creative Loafing article Tampa Bay Partnership was "instrumental" in creating TBARTA.
Tampa Bay Partnership was instrumental in creating the seven-county regional transportation authority TBARTA, which gives the region its best hope at a working mass (and rail) transit system.
Ken Roberts attended Friday's TBARTA workshop and apparently it was a TBARTA-Tampa Bay Partnership hug fest:
"The TBARTA Board Workshop at the USF Embassy Suites was two and a half hour tag-team testimonial during which TBARTA Directors plus their Executive Director, Bob Clifford; and members of the Tampa Bay Partners alternately sang each others praises: no steak - no sizzle. (These two organizations were the only parties at the table.) 
The only substance came when TBARTA Chairman Ronnie Duncan broached the subject of funding. Bob Clifford recalled the last board meeting on local funding as being "the shortest meeting on record. No one wanted to talk about it." To which Chairman Duncan replied, "schedule another one, and soon." 
Ken Roberts was the only person to offer public comment at the end. Roberts told them they had a public trust problem and the root of it is in the structure of their board. The 15 member board seats only one representative for Hillsborough County which comprises 34% of the population in its jurisdiction. The agenda, on the other hand, assured attendees "The Board has determined that TBARTA is on the right track."
TBARTA is a state funded agency and Governor Scott cut about $950,000 from TBARTA's budget in 2011. The state does not want to fund TBARTA and the counties do not want to fund TBARTA. Since TBARTA appears to have been established to advance Tampa Bay Partnership's agenda and they are such "good buddies", how about Tampa Bay Partnership dig into their own deep pockets and they can fund TBARTA?  

As stated in the interview, we already have the MPO's, FDOT, local transit agencies, Planning Commission and Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.  So better yet, lets simply eliminate TBARTA and that will also resolve the issues surrounding its chairman, Ronnie Duncan.

Duncan Raising Money for Rail Private Advocacy Campaign 6 months prior to "Yes for Greenlight"

Ronnie Duncan, chairman of TBARTA who recently resigned from the private "Yes for Greenlight" advocacy campaign, remains a drag on TBARTA and the Greenlight Pinellas referendum. Duncan still must resign from TBARTA.  

While he was chairman of TBARTA, according to this Times article in January, Duncan was out raising money for 6 months for the then unnamed private advocacy campaign: 
Boosters of the referendum, led by Ronnie Duncan, chairman of the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority, have begun work on a privately funded advocacy campaign to sell the public on the transit tax. In an interview, Duncan said the group has been raising money for the last six months, but declined to disclose how much or when the campaign will make its debut. It will continue to work with Tucker Hall to shape its message, he said.
At the same time Duncan, while chairman of TBARTA, was behind the scenes orchestrating the private advocacy campaign, TBARTA formally endorsed Greenlight Pinellas.  
TBARTA endorses Greenlight Pinellas
TBARTA, with Ronnie Duncan as chairman, endorsed Greenlight Pinellas on September 27, at the same time a private group led by Ronnie Duncan was raising money for a private advocacy campaign.  Which happened first - Duncan negotiating with anonymous special interest donors or TBARTA's endorsement? Or did they coincidently occur about the same time? 

Apparently the behind the scenes orchestration for raising money for a private campaign was started almost a year ago, according to this Tampa Bay Times article of April 13, 2013:
It's too early to know who will take the lead in fundraising, but rail advocates said they will look for someone with ties to the business community and government, such as Ronnie Duncan, chairman of the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority,(emphasis/highlight mine)….
We must say the power brokers couldn't get much closer to finding someone with ties to the business community and government than Ronnie Duncan.  Duncan is Founder and President of the Duncan Companies which provides a number of services including commercial real estate and land development. In addition, Duncan's wife, Ann Duncan, is President and Founder of Vertical Integration, Inc., a commercial real estate firm that includes a public and private sector practice. 
Ronnie Duncan, President, The Duncan Companies, Inc.
Who will be contributing to the Yes for Greenlight private advocacy campaign? The Tampa Tribune reported:
Realtors, construction firms and other companies are expected to raise up to $1 million for the advocacy campaign dubbed “Yes for Greenlight.”
Perhaps this was a slip of the tongue but Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA confirmed rail is not about mobility but development.  Miller stated at an event last summer where I heard his Greenlight Pinellas pitch, that the reason rail is part of Greenlight Pinellas is economic development aka transit-oriented development which is land development around transit stations.  

Still TBARTA has never responded to the initial letter sent to Ronnie Duncan and the TBARTA board requesting Duncan resign from TBARTA.  We then must assume the board of TBARTA condones Duncan's behavior and that sets a bad precedent. TBARTA has lost its credibility and public trust.  The only way to regain it back is for Duncan to resign from TBARTA.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Say Hello to Hollywood?

It's only money, so why not give it away to Hollywood?
TAMPA — Florida’s film and television industry has been lobbying for the state Legislature to allocate $200 million in tax incentives a year through 2020 — a total of $1 billion — to help lure major productions to the state.

The House of Representatives agreed will discuss just that. The Florida Senate will consider about one-fourth that amount.
There are differences between proposals in the House and Senate, so the real number will probably be less than $200M per year.  But it needs to be zero.
Producers of the feature film “The Infiltrator” want to film in the city. The story is based on the book “The Infiltrator: My Secret Life Inside the Dirty Banks Behind Pablo Escobar’s Medellin Cartel,” written by Robert Mazur of Tampa.

It is the real-life story of Mazur’s two-year investigation as an agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration posing as a Tampa-based businessman. The case helped bring down a major international financial institution that had laundered tens of millions of dollars for Escobar, the notorious Colombian drug dealer.

The production already is in the state’s queue of films awaiting tax incentives.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan said as long as lawmakers allocate even $30 million in new incentives, “The Infiltrator” would get its share and filming would take place in Tampa.
$30 million of your tax dollars to speculate with for a movie.  $30 million for a film with with $47.5 million budget... and we don't know how much will be spent in Florida?

Will you be eligible for any ticket discounts for the movie?

These people are disingenuous about the benefits for Hollywood tax breaks.  They bring out the Dolphin Tale story, which was minor film, filmed locally, that turned into a big hit. It also helped drive additional visitors to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium to visit the subject of the movie, Winter the dolphin.  This is clearly a unique circumstance.  Dolphin Tale received about $5 million in subsidies for a budgeted $35 million film.

Dolphin Tale, shot in Clearwater
But there are other benefits to the state, right?
[Gus Corbella, advisory council chairman with the Florida Office of Film and Entertainment] pointed to a recent report commissioned by the Motion Picture of Association of America showing that 23 percent of “leisure visitors” to Florida consider that viewing a movie or television series filmed in the state was very important of extremely important in their decision to come here.
Who really thinks there will be a great influx of visitors due to The Infiltrator, especially if it bombs like most Hollywood films?  Depending on the MPAA, Hollywood lobbyists, for an unbiased assessment of their economic impact is rather foolish, don't you think?

Even then, be aware of creative Hollywood accounting even for a success such as Dolphin Tale, which created 1288 jobs.  But most went to extras and stand-ins used for as little as one day.  And nearly all jobs are temporary.

If anything, we need to reform all the favorable tax breaks Hollywood with a long history of shady accounting and favorable tax treatment, while the Hollywood lefties lecture the rest of us we need to pay more in taxes.

As we discussed last year on this topic, these tax breaks are very questionable in their value.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers recently discovered a similar program was much more expensive than they thought. After years of subsidizing film productions without looking too closely at how that was helping the economy, state officials put it under a lens and found that taxpayers were spending as much as $300,000 to bankroll each position.
Other states that went in for a close-up after dispensing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks found that every public dollar put into the film industry was generating a few dimes, or less, in revenue.
Meanwhile, back to the local, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan gets behind the tax breaks.
“The Infiltrator” was slated to begin production in March but is on hold waiting for a decision on new tax incentives.

“I am cautiously optimistic that new incentives will be granted,” Hagan said.
Will he be trying out for a role in The Infiltrator?

Perhaps Commissioner Hagan needs to work on his math skills rather than his acting.

Or even better, can we get our politicians to set tax policies and regulations that are equitable and fair to ALL businesses in Florida, or may invest in Florida, rather than a few big money special interests?

Can't Run a Campaign but Think They Can Run a Train

The Eye has been posting since last year about the distrustful and deceitful activity that continues to be associated with the Greenlight Pinellas referendum and it's advocacy campaigns. Yesterday's Tampa Bay Times editorial admits
The political campaign for the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum already has jumped the track.
Greenlight Pinellas advocacy campaign jumps off its tracks
That may be an understatement but we appreciate the Times realizing the train wreck PSTA, Yes for Greenlight and the entire Greenlight Pinellas advocacy campaigns have become. 

In 2010 during the Hillsborough transit referendum both advocacy campaigns, Moving Hillsborough Forward who supported the referendum and who opposed the referendum were set up and organized as transparent political action committees (PACs).  Thus the campaigns had to follow the campaign finance rules disclosing who their donors were, how much their donors contributed and where they expended their money.  That information exists today and can be found at the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections website.  

NoTaxForTracks is setup as a PAC in Pinellas just like the PAC was in Hillsborough in 2010.  A PAC provides the legal transparency required by the campaign finance rules. 

Therefore, we questioned why the Yes for Greenlight campaign was setup as a 501c4 nonprofit that enables the campaign to hide their donors and campaign contributions. The Times agreed too, with these statements about the nonprofit status of Yes for Greenlight:
….it made a serious error in organizing itself so that its financial contributors can be kept secret. 
….business and community leaders have to create a smart grass-roots campaign that is highly visible and entirely open about its finances
Yes for Greenlight should reorganize as a different type of political committee that is legally required to disclose its donors….
Taxpayers and voters in Pinellas deserve better.  Inquiring voters want to know where "the campaign money is coming from and where it's going".  The only assumption one can make is that Yes for Greenlight has something to hide and did not want their donors to be disclosed.  One could refer back to Moving Hillsborough Forward's donor list (link above) and perhaps speculate if the same or similar special interests will be donating to the Yes for Greenlight campaign.

This is also a reminder that as reported by the Tampa Tribune 
PSTA CEO Brad Miller said there will be coordination between the two campaigns….
And PSTA already has enough black eyes as we posted yesterday.

The Tampa Bay Times is correct that the Greenlight Pinellas campaign is now a train wreck. 

These folks cannot even run a campaign.  Do you think they can run a $2 Billion train?

Update:  Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, was serious about his taxpayer funded Greenlight Pinellas campaign coordinating with the private Yes for Greenlight private advocacy campaign. Yes for Greenlight has a picture of Brad Miller, with his Greenlight Pinellas button on, speaking at the Yes for Greenlight campaign kick off event on the Yes for Greenlight Facebook page.  This event was held in the morning so Miller is speaking at this event on PSTA/Pinellas's taxpayer time.  And the caption with Miller states:  New campaign asks for Yes on Pinellas transit referendum.  Is this legal, unethical or what?  Anyone outraged?
Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, coordinates his Greenlight Pinellas
campaign to ask for a "yes vote" with the private Yes for Greenlight campaign

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Another Black Eye on PSTA and Greenlight Pinellas

PSTA and the Greenlight Pinellas campaign continues to get black eyes.

PSTA has been running their Greenlight Pinellas ads on their buses for months.  So NoTaxForTracks Pinellas decided to request and pay for their own bus ads but PSTA just said No:
No Tax for Tracks, a group opposed to the Greenlight Pinellas mass transit plan, recently offered to pay $15,000 to advertise its logo on the back of five Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority buses. 
But the group on Friday said it was told that the agency, which is funded through taxpayer dollars, does not allow political advertising and accepts advertising only for companies selling goods or services.
PSTA says they have legal cover for their bus ads because their ads are only educational.
PSTA puts their own Greenlight Pinellas ads on buses
but refuses to put NoTaxForTracks ads
Who is PSTA trying to kid? Where does education begin and ads for a political marketing campaign end?   Does PSTA think education is a one way street?  

Last summer PSTA created an ethically challenged taxpayer funded marketing campaign, targeting specific audiences, to support their transit referendum for light rail and expanded bus service. The Greenlight Pinellas campaign started on a rocky road last summer, before the referendum was ever placed on the ballot in December, when PSTA decided to spend at least $400K or more of taxpayer dollars to hire PR firm Tucker Hall to market their plan.  This was not educational, this was target marketing as Tampa Bay Times reported in January.
But unlike other education campaigns, Greenlight spent little money to spread its message. With no TV or radio commercials, billboard ads or flashy mailers, the campaign was nearly invisible to ordinary voters.
The agency bought ads on Bay News 9's website and in newspapers, including this one ($3,000). It purchased $6,750 in advertising on, a local website read by political insiders and covered 10 of its buses in Greenlight ads (emphasis mine). It spent $700 to increase the number of "likes" it had on Facebook.
We assume PSTA had to spend $700 on Facebook ads or perhaps no one would have liked their page.  

Subsequently the Tampa Tribune reported at the beginning of February that PSTA will spend another $150k or more to continue their pro referendum advocacy campaign. 
PSTA leaders say the campaign will enable voters to make an informed decision on whether to raise the sales tax by one penny to pay for an expanded bus service and a new light-rail network. 
That will mean treading a fine line since state law prohibits tax dollars being spent to influence how residents vote. Nonetheless, the publicly funded campaign will also be used to counter misinformation (emphasis mine) PSTA leaders say is being spread by transit opponents, including the No Tax for Tracks group.
Misinformation?  PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas has been leading the way with misinformation and misleading information:
  • PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas plan page 1 states that Pinellas population will grown by 200K in the next 25 years.  Wrong.  Pinellas has been losing population recently.  As we posted here, the most likely will be a stagnant, no growth population by 2040 but could LOSE 200K over the next 25 years.                                                                                     
  • PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas plan, page 4, shows a misleading map with a connection over the Howard Frankland Bridge, insinuating Greenlight Pinellas goes over the bridge.  As we also posted previously, even local media was misled and reported that Greenlight Pinellas was going over the bridge.  If the media were easily duped, do you think others will be?  
    Greenlight Pinellas DOES NOT go over the Bridge
  • PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas and the power brokers are attempting to sell Greenlight Pinellas as a tax swap: a 14% increase in the sales tax (from 7-8%) generating $130 million and eliminating the existing property tax which generates about $30 million.  If the property tax is eliminated, that's a four fold (4x) tax increase. No one in their right mind calls that a tax swap, that's a huge tax increase.
  • Reality is the ballot language voters are being asked to vote on is misleading.  There is nothing that states the property tax is being eliminated, it's not honest by stating it is a light rail system and insinuates the funding will include "regional connections" over the Howard Frankland.  
    • Title: Levy of Countywide One Percent Sales Surtax to Fund Greenlight Pinellas Plan for Public Transit. 
    • Summary: Shall the improvement, construction, operation, maintenance and financing of public transit benefitting Pinellas County, including an expanded bus system with bus rapid transit, increased frequency and extended hours, local passenger rail and regional connections be funded by levying a one percent sales surtax from January 1, 2016, until repealed, with proceeds initially deposited in a dedicated trust fund?
  • Greenlight Pinellas campaign is making things up as they go along. Greenlight Pinellas has NOTHING to do with roads but with Gov. Scott's recent announcement about the Gateway Express toll road project, suddenly we are being told Greenlight Pinellas was "meant to complement" roads.  
    • State Senator Jeff Brandes, chairman of the Senate Transportation committee, was interviewed last week on WFLA 970 about the Gateway Express project and said this: "The newly announced I- 275 connector in Pinellas to be started in 2017 does not contemplate any involvement with a light rail system. In fact, it would help leverage the assets we already have in Pinellas County and work well with expanding Bus Rapid Transit and managed lanes and steer our conversation away from light rail and all the huge costs of a light rail system. Once this connector is completed you will be able to travel from the Sunshine skyway bridge to north of Countryside Mall without a stop light. This will be a game changer in Pinellas County transit." The entire interview podcast is here.     
What is PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas so afraid of?  The truth! 

PSTA says they have legal cover as long as they do not use the words "vote for" or "support".  Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, runs all over Pinellas advocating for Greenlight Pinellas with Greenlight Pinellas buttons and handing out goodie bags and the inference is plain as day: PSTA/Greenlight Pinellas is asking you to SUPPORT and VOTE FOR the referendum.  Who's intelligence are they insulting simply because they don't use the words "vote for" or "support"?
Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, hands out Greenlight Pinellas buttons and  goodie bags
The fact is Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA and leading the taxpayer funded Greenlight Pinellas marketing campaign, attended and even spoke at the recent Yes for Greenlight campaign kick off event on taxpayer funded PSTA time. That is correct.  Taxpayers in Pinellas paid for PSTA CEO to speak at the private pro-referendum campaign kick off that is asking taxpayers to support  the tax increase for Greenlight Pinellas.  Below is a picture of Miller speaking at the event next to the sign stating "Vote Yes on November 4th".  What legal cover does Miller have for that?   We're not lawyers, but is that legal? 
Brad Miller, CEO of PSTA, speaks at the private Yes for Greenlight campaign kick off
standing next to sign stating "Vote Yes on November 4th"
PSTA is using their power to unethically advocate for the referendum and using their power to silence their critics.  

PSTA must allow NoTaxForTracks to buy their bus ads or PSTA needs to remove their bus ads immediately.  

The entire Geenlight Pinellas campaign is imploding. 

PSTA and Greenlight Pinellas have become a victim of their own deceptions and deceit.

Friday, February 21, 2014

CD 13 issue is Obamacare: Vote Jolly

The Eye looks at the importance of CD 13 special election in Pinellas.   Why is this race so important?  Obamacare!  Obamacare has become the #1 job killer in our country. 

There is no more stark difference in this race than on the Obamacare issue. 
Jolly wants to get rid of Obamacare because it's hurting Americans and those in Pinellas and Sink supports Obamacare.

What's key to Jolly winning?  Turn out, Turn out, Turn out!
David Jolly
If you live in Pinellas - VOTE and get 5 others to Vote too!

Anyone in the Tampa Bay area can help at either of the 2 Jolly campaign offices in Pinellas:
Clearwater:  (727)490-9324
St. Petersburg:  (352)584-7284

Sink says the race is not about Obamacare.  If that was true, why did she reject doing a national TV debate? Sink was on Baynews9 Political Connections recently:

Some points of reference from the Sink interview.
  • Sink says national forces may think the race is about Obamacare but she only goes by what she "hears" from residents in the District.  This is a reminder that it's only been about 2 months since Sink has been "hearing" anything from Pinellas residents.  Pinellas has over 920,000 people and almost 616,000 registered voters.  How many residents of Pinellas does she know much less has she "listened" to in that time frame?  Did she not hear residents in Pinellas say jobs are the priority?
  • When asked whether the CBO report that Obamacare will destroy 2.5 million jobs was devastating, Sink cheerfully replied  "Absolutely Not"  
  • Sink echoes Rep. Nancy Pelosi by happily telling us that Obamacare gives us more freedom and choice (so someone else can pay for their healthcare - small detail left out).  Sink sees Obamacare as an "Exciting Prospect".   Does anyone in Pinellas county think the Obamacare train wreck is an exciting prospect?    
  • In between her gleeful support for Obamacare, Sink indicts Obamanomics, the Obama economy, by stating how horrible the economy has been for the last 5 years.   Has Sink informed the Democrat party how bad the economy is that they have created?  
The #1 issue of Americans today is JOBS.  It is impossible to support a pro-jobs agenda and support the job destroying Obamacare.

The choice cannot be more clear in Pinellas.  

Vote Jolly!

Send a message that the only exciting prospect for Obamacare is its repeal!  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Real choice: Gateway Express toll project vs light rail fiscal cliff

Governor Scott announced the Pinellas Gateway Express toll road project this week as the Tribune reported:
Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that work will begin in 2017 on a $337 million expressway to link I-275 and U.S. 19 with elevated tollways. The five-year project, known as the Gateway Express, also includes a link from I-275 to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. The project was not expected to be funded for another 15 years
Pinellas Gateway Express Project
This project will create an express link connecting  I-275 to the St. Petersburg-Clearwater airport and US 19 via an elevated and street level toll road.  It will be paid for with existing funds, requiring no new revenues.  We like user-pays.  New toll roads providing additional capacity allows users the freedom to decide whether they want to use the toll road or not.  It's a win-win.  As those who want to pay the toll take the express lanes, it helps relieve congestion on the existing non-tolled lanes for those who do not want to pay the toll.  Now that is true freedom of choice.

The Tampa Bay Times reported  
The elevated roadway linking I-275 and U.S. 19 will run over 118th Avenue and then north to the airport. Once completed, the expressway could potentially shave 9 to 13 minutes off commuters' rush-hour drives.
Will this project compete with the Greenlight Pinellas proposal?  Google maps reflect the normal (non-peak) commute time between downtown St. Petersburg and downtown Clearwater is about a half hour.

Drive Commute from Downtown St. Petersburg to Downtown Clearwater
According to the Greenlight Pinellas plan, the 24 mile light rail system from downtown St. Petersburg through the Gateway area to downtown Clearwater with 16 stops will take almost an HOUR.
Greenlight Pinellas light rail plan 
Do some fear that the Gateway Express Project will compete with Greenlight Pinellas? Suddenly there's a coordinated effort telling us Greenlight "complements" roads. Are the power brokers making it up as they go along? The Tribune's initial report on the Gateway project:
“To me, it’s complementary,” said Chris Steinocher, CEO of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and a leader of the Yes for Greenlight campaign. “You get great roads and you have great mass transportation.”
The Tribune's subsequent Op-Ed:
This is the rationale behind Greenlight, which is meant to complement the road system, not compete with it. People will still have the option to commute alone in their cars. But for others, there will be choices.
Greenlight Pinellas plan does not have anything to do with roads. There is nothing in the Greenlight Pinellas plan that states the plan is complementary to roads. Greenlight Pinellas is only about transit, land use and  transit-oriented development. The only reference to roads is the Park and Ride, which indicates, you still need a car.
Only reference to roads in Greenlight Pinellas plan
Reality is the Gateway Express toll road project provides the "real" power and freedom of choice.  If you decide to use the toll road, you pay the toll. Greenlight Pinellas forces you to pay higher taxes into perpetuity whether you ever benefit from or use the train. In addition, with Gateway Express, you will be able to drive in half the time or less the same distance that the $2.5 BILLION train will take.  Who is going to take the train?  Why pay for it?

The Greenlight Pinellas plan is not only a boondoggle, it now looks more like a fiscal cliff.

It's been a bad week for Greenlight Pinellas……

Update:  Tampa Bay Business Journal online poll

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Duncan Resigns from Yes for Greenlight: One Small Win for Integrity

Ronnie Duncan announced he is resigning from Yes for Greenlight.
Facing mounting pressure from Tea Party groups who accused him of acting unethically, one of the leaders of a campaign to pass a transit tax referendum in Pinellas announced on Wednesday that he is resigning.

Ronnie Duncan, a former Pinellas commissioner and the chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, said he's leaving his post as co-chair of the Yes for Greenlight campaign, which he helped launch earlier this month to support a referendum that would raise Pinellas' sales tax to pay for mass transit.
Which Ronnie Duncan?
It was not just Tea Party groups.  What made Duncan think he could get away with this? Anyone with any sense of transparency and ethics could spot his conflict of interest a mile away.   The Tampa Tribune editorial page also called for him to step down from Yes for Greenlight, as did many others.

Duncan should still resign from TBARTA.  The damage has been done.  His actions raise significant doubt about his abilities to lead TBARTA in an impartial way and he has tainted TBARTA's mission across the seven counties in the Tampa Bay area they are serving.

In a related turn of events, Tucker Hall, the PR firm hired by both Greenlight Pinellas and Yes for Greenlight, was dropped by Yes for Greenlight, again for putting themselves in a similar conflict of interest of serving two masters.  From the Times:
In response to similar concerns over public perception, Yes for Greenlight has also severed ties with Tucker Hall, the Tampa-based public relations firm it brought on to manage nearly every aspect of the campaign. Tucker Hall was first hired over a year ago by Pinellas County's transit agency to design its more than $400,000 public education campaign for the transit referendum.

Ultimately, the fact that the company had worked on the public campaign — which, by law, had to maintain a neutral position on the referendum — and was orchestrating the private advocacy campaign, worried Yes for Greenlight's leaders. It also fueled the referendum's opponents, who have complained for months that the public education component was little more than a poorly disguised advocacy campaign.
Yes for Greenlight's remaining leader, Chris Steinocher, stated
"There was no legal problem, but it was the same perception of conflict," Steinocher said. "Part of this was the notion of: let's make sure that how we're running the campaign doesn't become the story."
They tried to sneak one in and got caught.  If poor ethics and conflict of interest were not enough of a problem, one misstatement from Duncan and they would be welcoming legal problems.

You can read our previous posts related to this topic  
Call for Ronnie Duncan, Chairman of TBARTA, to resign from TBARTA
Ronnie Duncan, who's your master?
Connect Tampa Bay Avoids Integrity
At least someone called Duncan out this time, and it did make a little difference.

Lesson learned?  Call them out, and let transparency and integrity win.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Connect Tampa Bay Avoids Integrity

Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation (COST) brought to attention Ronnie Duncan's dual and conflicting roles as a co-founder, leader and fundraiser for Yes for Pinellas while serving as Chairman of TBARTA.  You can read the COST press release, and further analysis on potential violations of the State of Florida Code of Ethics.

This made some headway, and yesterday February 12, the Tribune Editorial board weighed in
That’s why it’s disappointing to see the head of the area’s regional transportation agency, known as TBARTA, take a leadership role in the group that is raising private money to get the Greenlight measure passed in November.
TBARTA Chair Ronnie Duncan can be a cheerleader for Greenlight, but he shouldn’t get involved in raising money.
The Tribune goes on to state that Duncan should step away from Yes for Greenlight.  We believe he is tainted and cannot effectively separate from Yes for Greenlight and should resign from TBARTA.

The Tribune is not the only ones that agree with us.  We also know there are other local leaders across the political spectrum that agree with us.

We tweeted this "small step for integrity" yesterday morning, including to Connect Tampa Bay. Surely they'd be concerned about the integrity of Greenlight Pinellas plans they hold so near and dear.

After all, there are things we agree with Connect Tampa Bay.  For example, we collaborated with them last year on Public Transportation Commission reform.

Not this time.

This twitter conversation occurred Wednesday February 12 at approximately 9am.

Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay, is trying to draw some equivalency that does not exist.

Duncan's role as a fundraiser for Yes for Greenlight is a problem, since from the Tribune reported
Duncan told the Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell that he consulted TBARTA’s attorney and was told he can be on the steering committee for the privately funded Greenlight campaign, known as Yes Greenlight, as long as he makes it clear he is doing so as a private citizen and not in his capacity as TBARTA chair.
This confirms that Duncan has a conflict of interest by participating in Yes for Greenlight since he has to be so careful about what he says in any speaking engagement.  How is the average public citizen supposed to know?  Will Duncan change hats on paragraph boundaries or is a mid sentence change of hats OK?

Oh, and yes, he's expected to raise $1 - $2 million... all conveniently anonymous behind the 501c4.

That matters, if the State of Florida Code of Ethics are to mean anything.

Within an hour, COST received a call from Anna Philips, Tampa Bay Times reporter.  She raised questions about Karen Jaroch, who serves on the HART Board, and works for Heritage Action, also a 501c4.

How convenient.

But the gig was up.  We confronted Ms. Phillips, and she admitted she'd been fed this line of questioning from Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay.

Ms. Phillips was confused on many facts.  She tried to draw parallels with the 2010 Hillsborough referendum, and suggested that No Tax For Tracks was a 501c4.  It was a PAC, registered with Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections, with a public donor list.  She questioned Heritage Action involvement in 2010.  Heritage Action was just founded in 2010 to address Congressional legislation, and certainly was not involved in a local Hillsborough County 2010 referendum.

Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay likely would not know either.  He's only lived in Tampa a little over a year.

Despite the corrections to a non-story, Ms. Phillips got the hit job published for Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay.

But Ms. Phillips still could not get it right.
On her blog, Calvert wrote: "There is a problem when the chairman of a state agency serves as chairman for a private organization whose anonymous big dollar donors are hiding behind a 501c4, whose true interests are as hidden as the donors."

On Wednesday, referendum supporters shot back, arguing that one of Calvert's allies, Karen Jaroch, is guilty of the same thing.
We sourced the above information in our blog from Ms. Phillips February 7 article.

The letter COST sent to Ronnie Duncan did not mention any 501c4.

Ms. Jaroch is not leading any fundraising for an organization whose mission conflicts with her role as a member of the HART board.  She's not a fundraiser and Heritage Action has no interests with HART.

She has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Mr. Duncan figuratively will be collecting millions from a group of anonymous donors with the left hand, while controlling the Tampa Bay area master transportation plans with the right hand.

Do you see any equivalency?  For us here in the real world, there is meaningful and substantial difference.

Ms. Phillips and Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay apparently are unable to understand the context or the intent of ethics and integrity.

COST publicly made their statement demanding Ronnie Duncan's resignation, and released it to the media.

Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay did not publicly make his case.  He sought a receptive reporter to pursue and publish his petty accusations.

Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay had a choice to join us in a "small step for integrity".  He  chose to take a cheap shot and to look the other way instead.

Who do YOU trust?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ronnie Duncan, who's your master?

Ronnie Duncan, Chairman of TBARTA, is now also leading a 501c4 organization, Yes for Greenlight, organizing to pass the Greenlight Pinellas referendum on the November 2014 ballot.
The campaign, called "Yes for Greenlight," is being led by Ronnie Duncan, chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, and Chris Steinocher, president of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. In place of a traditional campaign manager, it will be run by Tucker Hall, a Tampa-based public relations firm, which has put vice president Keith Rupp in charge of daily operations.
Not yet fully formed, the "Yes for Greenlight" campaign has only begun to court donors, Duncan said, and has not amassed a war chest to pay for months of advertising. It has set up a tax exempt advocacy organization, a 501c4, he said, a step that will allow it to collect contributions and keep funders anonymous.
Organizers would not say how much they expect to raise, but similar campaigns in other cities have cost in the range of $1 million to $2 million.
There is a problem when the chairman of a state agency, serves as chairman for a private organization, who's anonymous big dollar donors are hiding behind a 501c4, who's true interests are as hidden as the donors.  We can only assume they are hiding because ... they are hiding something.

Who's interest will Ronnie Duncan be representing?  The seven counties, or a multi-million dollar anonymous donor group?  What are their real interests?  Do they align with your interests?

Ronnie Duncan, who's your master?

Ronnie Duncan, who's your master?
Still doubtful?  Let's check the State of Florida Code of Ethics:
112.311 Legislative intent and declaration of policy.-
(5) It is hereby declared to be the policy of the state that no officer or employee of a state agency or of a county, city, or other political subdivision of the state, and no member of the Legislature or legislative employee, shall have any interest, financial or otherwise, direct or indirect; engage in any business transaction or professional activity; or incur any obligation of any nature which is in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest. To implement this policy and strengthen the faith and confidence of the people of the state in their government, there is enacted a code of ethics setting forth standards of conduct required of state, county, and city officers and employees, and of officers and employees of other political subdivisions of the state, in the performance of their official duties. It is the intent of the Legislature that this code shall serve not only as a guide for the official conduct of public servants in this state, but also as a basis for discipline of those who violate the provisions of this part.
112.313 Standards of conduct for public officers, employees of agencies, and local government attorneys.—(7) CONFLICTING EMPLOYMENT OR CONTRACTUAL RELATIONSHIP.—
(a) No public officer or employee of an agency shall have or hold any employment or contractual relationship with any business entity or any agency which is subject to the regulation of, or is doing business with, an agency of which he or she is an officer or employee, excluding those organizations and their officers who, when acting in their official capacity, enter into or negotiate a collective bargaining contract with the state or any municipality, county, or other political subdivision of the state; nor shall an officer or employee of an agency have or hold any employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his or her private interests and the performance of his or her public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his or her public duties. 1. When the agency referred to is that certain kind of special tax district created by general or special law and is limited specifically to constructing, maintaining, managing, and financing improvements in the land area over which the agency has jurisdiction, or when the agency has been organized pursuant to chapter 298, then employment with, or entering into a contractual relationship with, such business entity by a public officer or employee of such agency shall not be prohibited by this subsection or be deemed a conflict per se. However, conduct by such officer or employee that is prohibited by, or otherwise frustrates the intent of, this section shall be deemed a conflict of interest in violation of the  
Highlighting is ours.

So it should be clear that Duncan has an "interest, financial or otherwise" is incurring "professional activities" that is in "substantial conflict with the proper discharge of his or her duties in the public interest." He also holds an "employment or contractual relationship that will create a continuing or frequently recurring conflict between his or her private interests and the performance of his or her public duties or that would impede the full and faithful discharge of his or her public duties."

The fact the Ronnie Duncan believes he can get away with such disregard of the public trust confirms that he is unsuitable as a public servant.

Ronnie Duncan, who's your master?

Ronnie Duncan must go.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Call for Ronnie Duncan, Chairman of TBARTA, to resign from TBARTA

The following Press Release went out today from Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation, a group of citizens concerned about the transportation issue who see a direct conflict of interest in Pinellas and are demanding Ronnie Duncan, the Chairman of TBARTA, resign. The campaigns regarding the November Pinellas referendum to raise their sales tax for rail and expanded bus service have begun.  The private pro referendum advocacy group, Yes for Greenlight, was announced last week and is being led and organized by Ronnie Duncan, the Chairman of taxpayer funded TBARTA.  

Ronnie Duncan, Chairman of taxpayer funded TBARTA, advocates for the Greenlight Pinellas Plan

Contact Information:
Sharon Calvert


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 10, 2014
Tampa, FL – A letter today has been sent to TBARTA Chairman Mr. Ronnie Duncan from Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation demanding Mr. Duncan resign from TBARTA immediately. Mr. Duncan is now serving dual roles. He is chairman of a state agency at the same time he is stepping into the position organizing and leading an effort known as “Yes for Greenlight”, advocating support to pass the sales tax referendum on the November ballot in Pinellas County.

February 10, 2014

Mr. Ronnie Duncan
Chairman TBARTA
3802 Spectrum Boulevard
Suite 306
Tampa, Florida 33612

Mr. Duncan:

The Tampa Bay Times reported that you are organizing and leading "Yes for Greenlight", the campaign advocating in Pinellas County in support of a referendum to increase the county's sales tax to pay for expanded bus service and light rail. You appeared publicly as a director and principal of "Yes for Greenlight" at their public kickoff event on February 7, 2014.

This constitutes a very serious and direct conflict of interest for you as Chairman of TBARTA and for the agency as a whole. Your public political advocacy while holding this influential leadership position on the TBARTA board seriously undermines the credibility of TBARTA. This is unacceptable. Your actions are counter to TBARTA's stated Guiding Principles that call for "integrity" and to " build a credible reputation in word and action". The only way the credibility of TBARTA can be restored is with your immediate and unconditional resignation from TBARTA.

Your actions cloud and severely undermine the serious work that needs to be done. TBARTA cannot be an effective state agency when you, as the Chairman of the Board, raise funds and advocate in elections.

Your activities place TBARTA and you personally as a board member and chairman in an untenable position to function effectively going forward.

You must resign immediately in order for TBARTA to regain the public trust.


Sharon H. Calvert
Spokesperson, Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation
505 Cullen Ct.
Lutz, FL 33548
cc: Governor Rick Scott
Executive Director, TBARTA