Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Cronies Take Over the Transportation Initiative

The Hillsborough County transportation public engagement meetings started last week. These meetings are part of the million dollar taxpayer funded work the county awarded Parsons Brinckerhoff via a no-bid contract to come up with a county transportation plan. The meetings are being held from now to May 21 all over the county to provide the public an opportunity to participate in the process.

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 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.


  1. Another post by a failed politician turned Republican party hatchetwoman whining about the people that wouldn't give her money ... so she lost int he primary by more than 40%. Trying to silence citizens in Apollo beach asking for relief on I-75, in west tampa asking for transit, and in Town N Country asking for both.

    1. Wa note you do not rebut the truth of who these people are. Ad hominem. attacks do not refute the truth. I have been encouraging people to attend these events but the public deserves to know who is running the show,

  2. This entire post is an ad hominem attack. Which is pretty much all Sharon does. Attack people who work for a living. While she whines about it.

    1. The public deserves to know who is actually running this initiative that taxpayers are paying. They, especially the taxpayers paying for this effort, may have a different view than you!

  3. Sharon, it's clear that you do not want us to have transportation choices. I completely agree that our roads need to be fixed. But we also need to have a balanced approach. We have to be able to fix our roads, expand our bus system, and improve and complete our trails and bike lanes. Let's do that in one move instead of continuing the piecemeal approach.

    You continue to believe that HART can just magically wave a magic wand and voila! 400 buses and double the network in five years. No, that's not how it works.

    1. Walter, what has been DEFUNDED since the CIT tax was blown out and the recession hit? Roads. HART, the Port Authority and TIA still have their funding sources. Roads only has a dwindling gas tax because there is no CIT for roads and the county stopped using property tax general revenues for roads when they diverted those dollars to balance the budget during the recession. Our revenues have been going back up but none of it has gone to refund our roads. Why? We have to fund our roads because the buses need them too. HART's TDP is a vetted plan so why wasn't it ever presented to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group? It was supposed to have been presented at last June's PLG meeting that got cancelled, then at the August PLG meeting and again HART did not have the opportunity to present it. Why? HART's TDP and the AEComm report should have been publicly presented at a PLG meeting. We're not against transit but like AEComm's transit assessment stated, Hillsborough County should invest in transit cautiously and prudently and our ridership is too low to qualify for federal funding for high cost fixed guideways. The county can figure out a plan to fund our local roads and implement HART's TDP. It could be done without federal funding and implemented within 10 years. If successful, funding could be renewed.

    2. Sharon, your reply makes zero sense to me. While all these entities (HART, PSTA, Port Tampa Bay, etc.) have been able to get some degree of funding, they don’t get enough funding. Property taxes alone are not enough to provide the level of funding that HART needs to expand. We both saw how property taxes and values dropped in 2007 and 2008 and how negatively impacted HART was by the downturn. While HART has done better than some transit agencies out there, they are not on very good footing. Another economic hiccup like what we saw between 2007 and 2010 could put HART in a precarious position to where they will have no choice but to slash services across the board. A fare hike will not remedy that situation either.

      As I’ve told you and Mark in the past, I support the HART TDP as well and applaud the plans that they have in store. However, you both fail to realize that the “Status Quo” scenario is not acceptable for what the county needs to be able to have efficient public transportation. Many of the changes outlined in the “Status Quo” scenario of the TDP will have to wait at least 3 to 5 years to happen, if not 6 to 8 years, or even more. We can’t afford to wait that long for those improvements to take place. We can’t afford to keep having people forced to drive when they don’t want to drive. You both meanwhile continue to believe that HART can just magically double their system in five years. As I mentioned, that’s not how it works. It’s not that easy for HART to just pull money out of its coffers. What if the state denies funding for the 53 buses that HART needs? Then what? HART has already lost roughly 20 buses since 2012 and they can’t afford to lose more as the oldest buses come up for retirement. Yet you continue to say that HART does not have a funding gap? Well, news flash! It does.

      Speaking of which, I find it funny how you mentioned about the HART TDP being vetted. Because FDOT planning out the Tampa Bay Express Lanes (aka Lexus Lanes) across all our interstates is clearly a process that isn’t being vetted enough. There have been very little opportunities so far for any public input and yet we have to flip the bill for over $6 Billion Dollars for lanes that will do little in the long run to reduce congestion, while people are forced to pay over $15.00 one way just to get to where they need to go? What kind of a solution is that? Furthermore, why do people like you keep pushing for a monstrosity that is a toll road through eastern Hillsborough when we clearly don’t need a toll road through eastern Hillsborough? Why don’t we complete the Veterans Expressway through Lutz? That highway desperately needs to be connected to I-275. Don’t worry Sharon, when the expressway finally gets completed, we’ll make sure an off-ramp goes through your backyard.

      And there you go again mentioning about the HOGWASH AECOMM assessment. I don’t need an engineering degree, nor need to be a rocket scientist, to know how much junk is in that assessment. It’s clear that the people who put that assessment together think that MetroRapid is simply “good enough” for Hillsborough when it comes to transit. That’s just plain rubbish to make voters believe that we’ll just settle with sub-par MetroRapid for the next 50 years while other cities, with better transit systems in place…which you all waste no time criticizing, will continue to move ahead while Tampa Bay rots in the dust. It’s very clear Sharon that once again, you want us to have no choice in how we get around. Your underlying agenda, which I continue to work on exposing to the voters of Hillsborough County, is to defund, slash, and privatize our transit systems. It’s very clear that you want ZERO public investment in transit and would rather see that money go to more and more and more TOLL ROADS.

  4. If Sharon was truly a fan of being open with the public, she would explain why her breath smells so strongly of Koch.

    1. If you were such a fan of being so public, you wouldn't have to post anonymously. When all you have to say is ad hominen attacks, it must be too embarrassing and cowardly for you to actually state who you are. The Koch brothers attacks are so passé, old and tired. You must not be able to think for yourself.

  5. Nice Informative Blog having nice sharing.. ottawa movers