Monday, August 31, 2015

The Mike Connors Void

St. Petersburg, Fl.
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog

 With Connors gone, there is a real vacuum in experience, engineering talent, political insight and power within the Public Works area.

 If you follow this Blogger, you know I am not a particular fan of St. Petersburg Public Works Administrator Mike Connors. I worked around him for 20-plus years and I never really trusted the guy.

The abrupt decision By Connors to retire is very un-Connors like. Even though he has been under some serious pressure lately, Connors has weathered storms before. Mike is steady, resilient and not affected much by what most people think.

There are rumors of a growing tiff with the Mayor's Office, but no one will confirm them.

The fact is Connors is apparently gone. There are a lot of people in the City administration, on City Council and in the general public that are happy he is gone, but that joy may be short lived.

As I have stated before one of Connors' most interesting traits was his effort not to hire anyone any smarter than he is and that makes an internal hire or promotion very difficult.

There is a definite lack of talent.

Tom Gibson, Engineering and Capital Improvements Director, appointed as interim Public Works Administrator has neither the political savvy to handle the job nor the administrative ability, and the Water Resources Director Steve Leavitt would be a dismal choice.

Nobody could handle a batch of wayward contractors on a major project any better than Connors. That steely eyed look and very fast logical mind could outwit even the most clever of them, and they knew it. The Engineering Department is easy to bamboozle along with Inspections, but if Connors got involved things straightened up in a hurry.

With Connors gone, there is a real vacuum in experience, engineering talent, political insight and power in the Public Works area.

While Connors will not be missed for his political maneuvering, manipulation of City Council and general disregard for what the public thought of his antics, he will soon be missed for his ability to keep the Public Works Departments, Water Resources and Engineering Departments in line.

He will also be missed for his ability to work large-scale projects with the Construction Manager at Risk format as this relationship assumes someone with both technical ability and political connections from the City's side.

As you can see, while I may not have particularly liked Mike Connors, I do have a great deal of respect for his ability as a professional engineer.

If Kriseman turns this into a political hire, every one of those projects listed above will get into some form of budget or technical trouble.

Kriseman needs to set up a national search, establish an evaluation committee that includes some Public Works directors from the area like Pinellas County and Tampa.

What St. Pete does not need is a selection committee populated by the firms building the Pier, or the police station or anyone remotely connected to them, the Chamber of Commerce or the Pier selection committee.

It would also be nice if the new Public Works administrator actually used a computer and e-mail.

E-mail Doc at: or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Four Forty Four - Much more than just a bus route

 St. Petersburg, Fl.
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want to Blog

Wednesday was one of those rare days when I actually felt bad for the PSTA Board. Four bus routes were on the chopping block.

The PSTA Board room was nearly full.

Public hearings are often emotional when they deal with subjects that directly affect people's lives. This one really tugged at your heartstrings.

Speaker after speaker labored to get to the podium on crutches, walkers and in wheel chairs. Some spoke for others in attendance since it was just too difficult for them to speak in person.

Each told of how much the 444 bus route means to them. They used words like freedom, dignity and independence.

Others spoke of the 444 as their lifeline to get to and from work. Some had been riding the 444 for years.

Eliminating the 444 would disrupt their lives perhaps end their independence.

These were real people, with real fears and real tears.

The 444 bus route is the least used of all the PSTA routes. The route has just over 20 borders a day.

It runs through Pinellas Park and stops at the Wal-Mart on US 19. It is not a particularly efficient route as it meanders around. Getting back to one's original starting point can often take in access of an hour. However, that inconvenience pales into comparison with the benefits to a small group of riders.

The 444 has been on the chopping block before, but this time with PSTA facing a real budget crisis, and it looked like the 444 was doomed.

The PSTA administration is looking at a number of options, including conversations with UBER but the 444 riders didn't seem to be buying it.

In the end, PSTA Board was moved and saved the 444 for the moment.

They ask for more information about the options 444 riders will have and for an improved plan to make the riders more aware of their options. However, they also indicated that the days of the 444 are probably numbered as the PSTA evolves a new public transportation plan.

There are a lot of tough days ahead at the PSTA and lot more stories from people whose very existence depends on public transportation.

We all need to listen closely. When you don't depend on public transportation, it is easy to not appreciate how important it is to those who do need it.

The PSTA administration and the Board must come up real, sensible plans and when they do we, the voters, must make sure the funding is there to support those plans.

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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Go Hillsborough Gets Debunked Again!

We all acknowledge we have traffic congestion in Hillsborough County but are we #11 in the country in traffic congestion?  I can name 10-15 metropolitan areas off the top of my head that have worse traffic congestion than we do.

However, Go Hillsborough posted on their Facebook page that Hillsborough County has the 11th worse congestion in the country. They provided no data sourcing on their post.

Parsons Brinckerhoff, a transportation expert, made the same statement in the packet they handed the county commissioners at the June 11 Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) meeting. This was the packet where Parsons and County Administrator Mike Merrill recommended a huge $3.5 Billion 30 year sales tax hike but provided no plan for where the money would be spent.
From packet Parsons Brinckerhoff handed PLG on 6/11
 (click to enlarge)
Parsons, a professional engineering firm, cites no source for their statement. 

Go Hillsborough is hosting 64 more meetings around the county costing taxpayers an additional $350K, over and above the million dollars they were already handed. It is obvious they are advocating to get votes around the county to support a huge 30 year sales tax hike for a 10 year transportation plan. It's the Community Investment Tax "there's something for everyone" all over again.

Go Hillsborough includes the same statement that we're #11 in traffic congestion on one of their displays at these latest meetings. Again no source is cited for such statement.
Go Hillsborough display at latest meetings
The PLG voted to hire a "transportation expert" to do transportation public engagement to create a transportation plan. Taxpayers are paying hefty Parsons Brinckerhoff consulting rates for this work.

What transportation expert makes such claims without citing the source or providing the source data? Transportation experts are expected to use legitimate source data and provide it.

Therefore, why would the Go Hillsborough campaign and it's prime consultant transportation engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff make such an accusation without any source data?

Either their source exists or it does not; or the source is bad, not legitimate and they know it. Does Go Hillsborough assume that we believe everything they say just because they say it?

A simple Google search confirms their statement of Hillsborough County having the 11th worse traffic congestion in the country is bogus. 

Legitimate sources like INRIX and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute do real traffic studies, publish their results and all their source data.

According to this article INRIX and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute just updated their traffic analysis for 2014. They actually use a set of defined metrics.
Traffic congestion nationally reached a new peak last year and is greater than ever before, according to a report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute and INRIX Inc. Their analysis is based on federal data on the number of cars on the road and on traffic speed data collected by INRIX on 1.3 million miles of urban streets and highways. 
The following are urban areas ranked by the average annual extra hours commuters spend in their cars due to delay, together with the cost in lost time and fuel.
1. Washington, D.C.-Virginia-Maryland, 82 hours, $1,834
2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, 80 hours, $1,711
3. San Francisco-Oakland, 78 hours, $1,675
4. New York-Newark, New Jersey-Connecticut, 74 hours, $1,739
5. San Jose, California, 67 hours, $1,422
6. Boston-New Hampshire-Rhode Island, 64 hours, $1,388
7. Seattle, 63 hours, $1,491
8. Chicago-Indiana, 61 hours, $1,445
8. Houston, 61 hours, $1,490
10. Riverside-San Bernardino, California, 59 hours, $1,316
11. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, 53 hours, $1,185
12. Atlanta, 52 hours,$1,130
12. Detroit, 52 hours, $1,183
12. Miami, 52 hours, $1,169
12. Austin, Texas, 52 hours, $1,159
12. Portland, Oregon, 52 hours, $1,273
17. Phoenix-Mesa, 51 hours, $1,201
18. Honolulu, 50 hours, $1,125
19. Bridgeport-Stamford, Connecticut, 49 hours, $1,174
19. Denver-Aurora, 49 hours, $1,101
19. Oklahoma City, 49 hours, $1,110
22. Philadelphia, 48 hours, $1,112
23. Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 47 hours, $1,262
23. Tucson, Arizona, 47 hours, $1,128
23. Baltimore, 47 hours, $1,115
23. Minneapolis-St. Paul, 47 hours, $1,035
Is Tampa-St. Petersburg listed as one of the top congested cities? No.

This information came from the 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard INRIX and Texas A&M Transportation Institute recently published. All the source data can be found here. The source data for Tampa-St. Petersburg can be found here.
Mobility Data for Tampa-St. Petersburg
(click to enlarge)
There is not one traffic congestion metric listed for the Tampa Bay area that reflects we are #11 in traffic congestion. The worst metric for Tampa Bay has us ranked at #22, and others go as high as #62.  See the complete data, line #99 for the full Tampa - St. Petersburg rankings and data.

There are so many improprieties with the entire Go Hillsborough campaign and they just keep coming. It appears the end (another huge 30 year sales tax hike) justifies the means (do anything to push support for the tax) taxpayer expense. 

If Go Hillsborough cannot provide truthful, legitimate information regarding our traffic congestion, what else are they not being truthful about in their campaign?

Voters and taxpayers in Hillsborough County deserve to be told the truth and provided factual data.

We deserve much better. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

PSTA CEO Brad Miller's Evaluations by PSTA Board members

The PSTA is the classic example of why these transit authorities don't work and why the public is reluctant to fund public transportation.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of:
So You Want Blog
Below in a series of Posts are the PSTA Board Member evaluations for PSTA CEO Brad Miller.

It is a bit of a read, but you will find the variance, attention to detail, seriousness and stunning lack of a grasp of reality by some of the PSTA Board members almost unbelievable.

PSTA is an authority to oversee public transportation in Pinellas County and the 15 member board was constituted so almost all the 24 municipalities in Pinellas County would be represented.

The result is a board that it is cumbersome, inattentive, and incapable of managing even their own CEO let along a public transportation system.

Miller has violated Federal law, lied repeatedly to the public and the PSTA Board, violated the rights of PSTA employees and has shown a general disregard for the public.

However, none of that appears in these evaluations, and that is not really surprising since this is the same board that repeatedly gave him votes of confidence.

Public transportation is a mess in Pinellas County, and the reputation of the Authority has never been worse. The face of these problems is Brad Miller but the PSTA Board just keeps its head in the sand hoping things will change.

They won't.

Brad Miller should be terminated from his position at the next PSTA Board meeting regardless of the cost.

 Here are some more Posts; Brad Miller - You Just Can't Trust Him, Should Miller Go as PSTA CEO?

The PSTA is the classic example if not the poster child for why these transit authorities don't work and why the public is reluctant to fund public transportation.

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Go Hillsborough Losing Trust

As we previously posted here, County Administrator Mike Merrill, Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff and PR lobbyist Beth Leytham decided to expand the size and scope of their official proposal to the Transportation Policy Leadership Group. They unilaterally decided to pursue a $7 Billion sales tax increase doubling the tax "they" originally proposed. This policy making decision was made without any governing authority approval.

Then what?

We got an apology.

Merrill apologized at Wednesday's BOCC meeting, after the fact, for his egregious over reach. The TBT reported
Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill apologized to county commissioners Wednesday for publicly floating a one-cent sales tax hike to fund transportation projects without their knowledge.
Merrill and county staff had hoped putting the larger tax increase back on the table would show residents what projects would not be feasible with the smaller tax hike.
Since when does county staff have the authority to use taxpayer monies to push for higher taxes?  Isn't this a violation of county policy? Isn't this unethical? Isn't this a violation of the separation of powers between the administrator and the county commissioners defined in our county charter?

Merrill may have apologized but he certainly has no regrets about his over reach, as the TBT also reported
Merrill said he stood by the decision to put the one-cent sales tax back in play but apologized to commissioners “for not giving you proper heads up.”
Perhaps Merrill has no remorse because he has been overstepping the bounds of his authority on the transportation issue for over a year......and getting away with it.

After Merrill's apology was given, then what? 


There were a few comments made by the commissioners but no repercussions. 

The county commissioners did not rescind Merrill's decision. They did not tell Merrill to cease and desist with pursuing a $7 Billion sales tax hike. They did nothing and let Merrill's decision stand. The county commissioners simply accepted Merrill's unilateral decision to increase the scope and double the tax hike to what he has always wanted.

Merrill's unilateral decision was released the very same day Go Hillsborough was starting their next round of meetings throughout the county to buy votes for a sales tax hike. There is serious doubt this decision was made just the weekend before. More likely, it was a calculated orchestration made long before behind closed doors. 

Merrill's been publicly pursuing a one percent sales tax hike since last June. He was not going to give up on that pursuit now. Merrill should run for office if he thinks he knows policy making the best.

Merrill's egregious actions has put the commissioners in an awful position on this critical issue. It reflects the county commission lost control of this initiative and has not provided proper oversight and leadership of the entire Go Hillsborough process. 

Commissioner Hagan, who has vigorously supported the half-percent proposal, showed concern about Merrill's pursuit of a full percent as this Tribune article reported
Others, however, doubted that a one cent increase would stand a chance with tax-averse voters. Commissioner Ken Hagan, while supporting a discussion of what the full cent increase would pay for, predicted it would be “DOA,” or dead on arrival, at the ballot box.
Still there was NO motion or action taken by the county commission to reign in what Merrill unilaterally did. 

This incident is just the latest scandal associated with the crony Go Hillsborough campaign.

However, the bottom line to this story is trust. Lack of trust with the county has been a chronic problem for years. There is little trust with the county now for how they spend the monies they already get. That was reflected in the polling and focus groups done by Go Hillsborough.

Trust in government is at a historical low.

Trust is earned.

How is trust earned?

By being honest, telling the truth, following the rules, delivering clear messages, having strong integrity, following through, being open and transparent.

How is trust lost?

By being dishonest, lying, not being truthful, not following through, having a lack of transparency, cronyism, perception of deception and changing plans behind closed doors. 

Regaining trust does not come via a single issue, event or policy. It is something that has to build over repeated actions and time. Trust must be carefully constructed, vigorously nurtured and constantly reinforced. 

Trust takes a long time to develop but it can be destroyed by a single action or event. And once lost, trust is exceptionally difficult to re-establish.

The county changed the rules in the middle of the game when they blew out the CIT tax. 

The county tells us transportation is #1 issue but they have $123 million of new revenues for FY2016 and refuse to start appropriately funding our roads, the county's largest and most utilized assets. Instead they plan to spend what they already are getting on lower priority items, pork and pet projects.

County Administrator Mike Merrill decides to change the rules in the middle of the Go Hillsborough campaign and expand the scope of Go Hillsborough and double the size of the tax.

Apologies, especially with no remorse, does not build trust.

We were told this transportation initiative was created to build trust on this issue.

"They" blew it.

Who is going to trust the county with any transportation plan where the bureaucrats, consultants or perhaps even elected officials can arbitrarily go into back room, closed door meetings and change the rules of the game at any time?

Who is going to trust the county with BILLIONS more?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Failure Factories Tampa Bay Times

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog .

All of these under performing schools are in St. Petersburg and the City has to take some of the responsibility.  

I can't remember anything that has outraged me as much as the exceptional Tampa Bay Times expose Failure Factories by  
Cara Fitzpatrick Lisa Gartner and investigative reporter Michael  LaForgia.

Dr. Michael Grego 
The quality of the investigating and reporting gets lost in your rage as you read what has happened to most defenseless children in our community.

One of the first questions that all but screams from your mouth is WHO is responsible for this?

Pictured here are the eight most likely culprits: the Pinellas County School Board and their handpicked superintendent.

Read their comments in the Times article and you will laugh and then cry. How can these people be so out of touch, uninformed so "not knowing what they don't know?"

The answer is simple because they want to be uninformed.

But are they really the responsible ones?

Janet R. Clark
Carol J. Cook
Take walk down the hall and look in the mirror and run through these questions

1. Did YOU vote in the last School Board election?
2. Did you not do any research and just vote for the incumbent?
3. Are you retired and either
    a. Didn't bother to vote because you don't have
        any kids in school here
    b. Just voted for the first name on the list
4. Have a kid in one of those high white population schools and voted for the current
board members that gamed the system that way?

Well, I think you are to blame.
Linda S. Lerner
Dr. Ken Peluso

 A lot of these School Board Members, many who have served far too long, fully realize that if they make sure the white schools stay white and make sure those parents feel that a vote for them will keep it that way they can be pretty sure of getting reelected.

Every time a parent gets a kid in one of the "good schools" properly worked that parent can easily become a vote for the incumbent.

All of these underperforming schools are in St. Petersburg and the City has to take some of the responsibility.

Rene Flowers
Peggy Oshea
When we had a Mayor, who was willing to work at education and not just talk about it these schools were working steadily toward improvement. The last thing anybody on the School Board wanted to do was tangle with Rick Baker.

They barely give Rick Kriseman the time of day.

Kriseman's answer: hire a couple of wannabes to handle the problem so he doesn't have to deal with it and move on.

That will not work.

The Pinellas County School Board only understands one thing – power. Send a couple of low level or high level employees out on this one and absolutely nothing will happen.
Terry Krassner

It's time for some tough plays.

The Governor should step in and call for independent investigation. The Department of Justice should investigate to see if these kids civil rights to an equal education has been violated and if so any School board members who were part of any wrong doing should be charged, tried and jailed if they are
found guilty.

Here we are spending $50 Million plus on a Pier that will likely be a flop, another $20 Million to build a nice walkway to that Park and a place for a couple of restaurants probably built by big campaign contributors and a pretty view for the folks from their million dollar condominiums and 40 or so blocks away we have five of the worst schools in Florida and arguably
the worst school board.

And don't give me the money is allocated bullshit when kid's futures and their safety is at stake there is no such thing as untouchable public funds.

Kriseman gets a couple million more in tax revenues and what does he want to do?

Hire eleven cops and put them downtown.

How about this instead of paying another million or so in public dollars so the drunks can sit around their bars until 3 AM swilling craft beer, why don't we shut the damn bars down at midnight or 1:00AM and put some law enforcement on the south side and in the schools so the kids that want an education can get one.

Kriseman has had his priorities screwed up since he was sworn in.

Superintendent Mike Grego has pledged he will fix these problems.

See Superintendent Grego's Comments in Channel 10's Superintendent defends Pinellas Schools.

Let me tell you what Superintendent Grego will do.

He will do exactly what he is told by the people setting on the School Board dais and not one thing more.

Next time you get your Trim (Truth in millage) statement look at how much all of this costing you, now reread the article Failure Factories to see what you're getting

E-mail Doc at mail or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook. See Doc's Photo Gallery at Bay Post Photos.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Go Hillsborough Goes Rogue

The Transportation Policy Leadership Group (PLG) meeting was cancelled for August

At the July 26 PLG meeting, the county commissioners took a ceremonial vote. They voted to continue pursuing the 30 year half-cent $3.5 BILLION sales tax hike proposed by Parsons Brinckerhoff and County Administrator Mike Merrill at the June 11th PLG meeting. 

So what happened in August instead of a PLG meeting?

Go Hillsborough campaign decided to double down. Go Hillsborough decides to pursue a full one-cent $7 BILLION sales tax increase during their last taxpayer funded meetings to buy votes throughout the county. 

The timing was perfect. Many families are focusing on getting their children ready for a new school year not this issue. Great way to entice the transit supporters who support huge tax increases for high cost solutions to get out and voice "their" support for a full cent tax increase.

Was this one-cent sales tax hike ever proposed to the PLG and county commissioners?  No

Did the PLG or the county commissioners ever discuss a one-cent sales tax hike?  No.

Did the PLG or the county commissioners ever take any vote to pursue a one-cent sales tax hike?  No.

The Go Hillsborough PR lobbyist Beth Leytham simply sent out a Press Release Monday announcing their new plan wanting a one-cent sales tax increase. 
Go Hillsborough goes rogue and
wants a full cent tax hike
Leytham had NO governing authority to send out this Press Release.

I have not found ONE elected official or policy maker who authorized this Press Release. 

This decision was orchestrated by the County Administrator Mike Merrill and the cronies behind the green curtain outside of any Sunshine.

As the TBT reported

County Administrator Mike Merrill said officials received strong feedback in support of putting the half-cent option on the 2016 ballot but also recognized that the 1-cent tax would have a more significant impact on solving the county's transportation woes. 
"Now, we want to make sure that our citizens … understand what a half-percent actually can fund," Merrill said, "and the critically important projects it cannot." 
"The idea is to make sure people understand the difference of what you can get with the half and here's what you can potentially get with the full," Clifford said. "We want to make sure there's no expectations or misunderstandings of what a half-cent provides."
This one-cent tax hike was a unilateral decision made by an unelected bureaucrat Mike Merrill, a taxpayer funded consultant Bob Clifford and PR lobbyist Beth Leytham. 

Remember Clifford resigned from TBARTA, part of the 2010 rail cartel, last May. He conveniently went to work for Parsons Brinckerhoff right before Parsons was handed their million dollar no bid blank check last September. Leytham is a political insider who was rail cheerleader Mayor Buckhorn's PR campaign consultant and a close associate of commissioner Ken Hagan.

Go Hillsborough has now gone rogue.

The Eye predicted this when we posted here about the cronies taking over our transportation initiative.

The Go Hillsborough campaign is out of control. Unelected bureaucrats and crony consultants and PR lobbyists are dictating policy changes in the middle of their campaign game. They do not have the authority to do that. 

The county commissioners have lost control of this initiative. 

County Administrator Mike Merrill continues to act as an unelected County Mayor and overstep the boundaries of his unelected bureaucrat authority. His authority, as defined by our County Charter, is only to IMPLEMENT the policies of the elected officials NOT dictate policy. Merrill politicized this issue, awarded contracts to cronies and helped create the mess this campaign is now in.

Who will be held accountable for this corrupted Go Hillsborough process?

Do our county commissioners care? If they do, they will shut down the Go Hillsborough campaign immediately. 

If they don't, at least we now know Go Hillsborough's Plan B: Double down on Failure!

And we'll all be losers.