We will begin to report what we know, what we see and what we find out about this public engagement effort, now branded as "Go Hillsborough". What "they" don't tell you is sometimes as important as what they are attempting to say.
First question to ask who is actually now running this initiative?
From what we see, it is the politically well connected who all are and were closely associated to big rail supporters in the Tampa Bay area.
We warned about the tactics of the Parsons Brinckerhoff crony mercenary force here. We knew they'd bring in their recruitments and they did.
The taxpayers are paying for this effort but the public should know who is now actually running our transportation initiative. It is a close knit group of rail supporters.
- Bob Clifford, former Executive Director for big rail advocate TBARTA, resigned from TBARTA last May and went to work for Parsons in June. TBARTA was created in 2007 at the request of special interest Tampa Bay Partnership who is the leader of the rail cartel in the Tampa Bay area.
- Hillsborough County awarded rail crony Parsons Brinckerhoff the million dollar no bid contract in September. There were no upfront requirements provided but the scope of work awarded Parsons Brinckerhoff by the county was titled "Transportation REFERENDUM support" even though there is NO referendum on the ballot.
|County hands Parsons Brinckerhoff a no-bid contract for work|
to support a Transportation REFERENDUM
- Parsons Brinckerhoff coincidentally did HART's Alternatives Analysis (AA) for the 2010 rail referendum. George Walton, who is leading this effort for Parsons is the same person who led HART's Alternatives Analysis recommending high cost rail in 2010. That referendum was overwhelmingly defeated 58-42%. The county, therefore, handed the public engagement work to create a county transportation plan to the very same company (Parsons Brinckerhoff) and person (George Walton) who recommended the costly rail boondoggle in 2010.
- Parsons immediately subcontracted to politically well connected PR firm of Beth Leytham. Leytham is also rail cheerleader Mayor Buckhorn's campaign PR consultant. Engaging a PR firm to do public engagement violated the specific request by our county commissioners made at the August 12th Policy Leadership Group meeting to NOT hire a PR firm to do this work. Greenlight Pinellas?
- Mayor Buckhorn sits on the Transportation Policy Leadership Group overseeing this effort. At the May 28, 2014 Policy Leadership Group meeting last year (video/transcript found here, Mayor Buckhorn stated (about 47:40 of the video):
|Mayor Buckhorn statement at the |
May 28 PLG meeting
- Leytham conveniently branded our taxpayer funded public engagement effort "Go Hillsborough". That is the same name as the plan announced last year by the local transit lobbyist Connect Tampa Bay. Their plan proposed raising our sales tax 14%, which would be the highest in the state, a majority of which would go to transit, including high cost light rail. We note that Connect Tampa Bay has removed the link to their plan from their website. We wonder why.....
- Leytham subcontracted website work to ad agency Chappell Roberts. Colleen Chappell, CEO of Chappell Roberts, is the Chair of Marketing and Communications for the leader of the rail cartel, Tampa Bay Partnership. Chappell is also Vice-Chair of the Economic Development Corp. (EDC). The Chappell Roberts ad agency owns the gohillsborough.org domain name NOT the county who is paying for it. What prevents Chappell Roberts from using any of the public information gathered on the website they own in the future for another advocacy campaign led by Tampa Bay Partnership?
|Local ad agency Chappell Roberts owns|
- The EDC's CEO Rick Homans, another big rail advocate, helped orchestrate with County Administrator Mike Merrill, the convening of the rail cartel at the very first Transportation Policy Leadership Group meeting in July 2013. Hillsborough County gives the EDC hundreds of thousands of our county tax dollars each year.
- Brandie Miklus, a founding member and a Director of the transit lobbyist Connect Tampa Bay who participated in their Go Hillsborough plan announcement last year, is directly involved with the public engagement meetings. At a public engagement meeting last week, Miklus was working the table where everyone signs in. A founding member of the local transit lobbyist is actively working on the public engagement effort paid for by taxpayers.
- Miklus is also with Jacobs Engineering, another rail crony who Parson subcontracted work to. Jacobs Engineering did the Alternatives Analysis work for PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas referendum which also included a high cost rail boondoggle.
All these people working on this taxpayer funded effort on our taxpayer dime are connected to or closely associated with big rail supporters.
How did this happen? I decided to ask that question of Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff last week at one of the public engagement meetings. See the video clip below where Clifford merely states "we're all in the transportation industry".
Our local transportation industry is much bigger and wider than these closely associated rail cronies, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Jacobs Engineering. Hillsborough has tons of PR firms and ad agencies. Engaging all the rail cronies did not "just happen". It is intentional. But the taxpayers are paying for this....
Parsons Brinckerhoff and Jacobs Engineering worked with Tampa Bay Partnership, the leader of the Tampa Bay area rail cartel, on their Transportation Vision 20/30/40 plan. That plan includes 60 miles of rail.
Tampa Bay Partnership literally was the pro rail PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010. According to the document below creating the pro rail advocacy Moving Hillsborough Forward PAC, the affiliated or connected organization was Tampa Bay Partnership.
|Tampa Bay Partnership = Moving Hillsborough Forward|
Stuart Rogel, former Chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership was the Treasurer for the pro rail PAC supporting Greenlight Pinellas last year. The Partnership provided all the administrative support for both pro rail PACs, providing tens of thousands of dollars of in-kind donations to both pro rail PACs.
Is this "Pay to Play"? Follow the money:
- Parsons Brinckerhoff gave $50K to the Greenlight Pinellas pro rail PAC last year and $40K to Moving Hillsborough Forward pro rail PAC in 2010.
- Parsons Brinckerhoff did HART's Alternatives Analysis for the 2010 referendum at a cost to taxpayers of $1.5 million that recommended high cost light rail.
- According to the Tampa Bay Partnership "Investors" page, Chappell Roberts gives $50K, Hillsborough County gives $50K (of our tax dollars) and Parsons Brinckerhoff gives $10K to the Partnership.
- Parsons, Leytham and Chappell all donate to many of the county commission campaigns according to the SOE website.
- Jacobs Engineering gave $25K to Greenlight Pinellas through a PAC. They did PSTA's Alternative Analysis at a cost of $4 million to taxpayers that recommended high cost light rail for Greenlight Pinellas.
These people are all working together on our taxpayer dime on an effort to create a county transportation plan.
We suspected this effort could end up something such as this when we reported here and here about the rail cartel groupies being invited to the very first Policy Leadership Group meeting back in July 2013. We stated at that time:
We'll be watching the orchestration and collaboration going on around the transportation issue between taxpayer funded agencies, special interests and elected representatives.
The Parsons Brinckerhoff mercenary force is blatant cronyism and why this effort is wastefully costing taxpayers so much money. The rail cronies are tone-deaf to their own cronyism.
It appears the county is also tone-deaf to this cronyism. The county enabled it by handing Parsons Brinckerhoff the no-bid contract.
The reality is the rail cartel is now running our transportation initiative - literally from the inside - using our tax dollars.
Some will call that stacking the deck.
Some will call that unethical.
Some will call that cronyism.
Some may even call that corruption.