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?

1 comment:

  1. There needs so be some house-cleaning at the BOCC. Half the county is flooded and they are worried about getting more money for themselves. Clearly they don't give a darn about the citizens of the county.