Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Janet Long reelected to serve 3 more years on PSTA Board

An example of what's really wrong out at the Suncoast Transit Authority

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Coauthor of: So You Want Blog
In what County Commissioners apparently consider a frivolous and unimportant decision, they jokingly re-elected County Commissioner Janet Long to three more years serving on the PSTA Board of directors.

You can read the disappointing example of poor governance in saintpetersblog, by Devon Crumpacker, Finite jest — OR — the 40 seconds it took to approve Janet Long’s three-year term to the PSTA Board.

You can read Janet Long's evaluation of PSTA CEO Brad Miller at Bay Post Internet, PSTA CEO Brad Miller's Evaluation by  PSTA Board Member Janet Long

Long a staunch supporter of all things Greenlight and PSTA CEO Brad Miller gave him a low rating yet would not second a motion to fire the PSTA CEO.

The cavalier approach to selecting PSTA Board members is just one of many examples why PSTA continues to be in a functional and political mess.

Long is one of fifteen or so elected officials on the PSTA Board of Directors that spend much more time being politically correct than they do dealing with the real public transportation issues in Pinellas County.

The PSTA Board is quick to embrace more taxes but short on keeping the PSTA house in order. For example, read my post in Bay Post the Internet: PSTA CEO Continues to Hang on to His Job.

These public transit boards like HART and PSTA are proving to be useless and easily manipulated. It is time for the Governor or the Legislature to step in and remove the issue of public transportation from the hands of the politicians and put its fate in the hands of the citizens.

Until that happens, we are going to get more GreenLight Pinellas and Go Hillsborough initiatives that are more about moving money into the hands of a select few and much less about moving people who need public transportation.

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Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Death of Go Hillsborough

The impact of WTSP's Noah Pranksy's ongoing reporting on Go Hillsborough, is still rumbling throughout Tampa Bay like 20 straight days of thunderstorms in July.

Regardless how the audit, investigation, lobbying reforms, hand wringing, etc. turns out, Go Hillsborough is toast. Done. Fini.

But no one has really caught why Go Hillsborough is dead.

Off the tracks.. and dead!
Sure, as Henderson wrote, 
If the review finds no violations occurred, as Merrill has insisted is the case, opponents will scream it’s a whitewash and business as usual. Even if commissioners went ahead with the referendum, imagine trying to convince a skeptical public that this isn’t an inside job where taxpayers get handed the bill.
True that. With good reason.

We agree with with Mitch Perry as well:
This proposed tax was always going to be a tough sell in a county that overall doesn’t seem to believe it needs to pay more for improved transportation. Now it’ll be even tougher.
True that too.

Yet they are all missing the reality that Go Hillsborough is forever tainted by their own doing, and the real downstream impacts. They can't recover from all the mistakes, lack of transparency, and insider dealings.

They could have learned from the mistakes of the 2010 referendum, but they didn't.

They could have learned from the mistakes of Greenlight Pinellas, but they didn't.

They could have heeded the AECOM study, which we the Hillsborough County taxpayers paid for, but they didn't.

They could have awarded the contract in an open and transparent process, but they didn't.

They could have not hired a crony leader of the rail cartel, Parsons Brinkerhoff, but they didn't.

They could have separated themselves earlier from an insider/PR/lobbyist/advisor/friend who always seems to get the business her way, but they didn't.

You get the picture. 

Hillsborough County Commissioners, the transportation Policy Leadership Group, and county Administrator Mike Merrill made a series of decisions.

Each decision was the wrong decision.

Now Go Hillsborough has to live with that legacy.

Will the expected business interests throw the big money at the real campaign? Will the same businesses that got behind Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010, and Greenlight Pinellas in 2014 get near this thing?

The Tampa Bay Partnership, Downtown Partnership, Chambers of Commerce, Westshore Alliance, real estate developers, land use attorneys, big banks, real estate associations, et al.

Now they won't touch this thing.

If they do, they'll be tainted as well.

Without the corporate money from a multi-million dollar PAC, there will be no campaign, and no corporate support.  

Without that, no Go Hillsborough.

Time to cut our losses.

It gives me no great pleasure to write this, as we have to fix our transportation problems now.  But it is their own doing.

As we've asked before, and now more than ever.

Where is Plan B?

Time to dump Go Hillsborough, and get started on a new plan. We can start now. Work with the current budget, develop quick wins, demonstrate success, and rebuild confidence.

Before we go for the moon shot.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Baseball at the Dump

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

Would the Rays be willing to play at Toytown?

The Atlanta Braves plan to move their spring training to Pinellas County caught a lot of people by surprise.

For those of you, who don't know where Toytown is it is a 240-acre plot of land at the Roosevelt Blvd/118th exit on I-275.

Most of us who have lived here for a while can remember driving by the land fill and watching hundreds if not thousands of birds chasing the trash compacting bulldozers around the land fill.

Toytown was a garbage dump for about 30 years. It was closed in 1983. Since then it has been setting while the buried trash decays percolating methane.

For all the excitement the prospect of a mega spring training center brings; the reality is reclaiming Toytown for anything will be an expensive process.

For now those proposing to develop the site say the reclamation of Toytown is not a problem. My guess is as the reality of making the old dump safe for habitation becomes clear; the developers will be asking the citizens of Pinellas County to pick up the tab.

Also interesting in all of this was the reaction of the MLB home office claiming they were caught off guard. I personally find that a little hard to believe that the Braves would keep the home office in the dark. The whole thing looks more like a ploy to get the Rays stadium issue moving.

Add to that the whole tourist tax issue. For some insight see Tampa Bay Times Charlie Fargo:  St. Petersburg measures impact of Braves spring training plans on Rays' plans.

Everyone from the Rays to the Kriseman administration will be jumping on this as the reason to let the Rays go look for a new site in the Bay area.

I agree now is the time to let them look. What will be interesting is if there is any really serious interest anywhere in the Bay area and who might be willing to pony up some private money?

The spring training thing looks a lot more inviting to me than a new Ray's stadium, unless of course the Rays were willing to play ball at the dump.

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.
Contributor: Waterfront Charter Amendment (Vote on The Pier), Carly Fiorina for President

Friday, September 25, 2015

Kriseman beats a hasty retreat in City Employee Social Media witch-hunt

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

The Kriseman administration has made it clear they are more than willing to go after employees who aren't in agreement with them.

The Kriseman administration did an about-face from an ill-conceived decision to suspend one employee for her Facebook comment and "discuss" with another their Facebook comments.

You can get more detail in Janelle Irwin's saintpetersblog Post: Rick Kriseman overturns suspension of employee who called him a ‘clown,’ will pay lost wages.

From the Irwin Post:
According to Kriseman’s communication director, Ben Kirby, the City rescinded the suspension to avoid negativity in the bargaining process currently underway.

“The mayor spoke with Ms. Wynn yesterday. Based on his review of the totality of the situation, in light of the current bargaining process, and in order to avoid negatively impacting the lives of our workers in the bargaining unit, the mayor has withdrawn Ms. Wynn’s suspension,” Kirby said. “He reiterated to her his expectation that we engage in respectful discourse and refrain from name-calling.”

Let me attempt to translate that for you.

The Kriseman team was more worried about looking bad when a major negotiation went bad than reasonable treatment for the City employees.

If the employees union, SEIU Florida, had not stepped in and proposed to make this a negotiating issue, Ms. Wynn would have lost five days pay, and the other unnamed employee would have likely been subjected to a similar if not more dire fate.

According to HR director Chris Guella, the section used for originally suspending Wynn called for employee dismissal for “unlawful or improper conduct either on or off the job, which would tend to affect the employee’s relationship to the job, fellow workers, reputation, or goodwill in the community.”

Unlawful is pretty clear, improper is wide open to interpretation, but I doubt the original writers had social media political comment in mind.

Note the rule, which should be updated to reflect current reality, indicates it is the employee’s relationship to the job, fellow workers, reputation, or goodwill in the community”

The Kriseman administration has made it clear they are more than willing to go after employees who aren't in agreement with them.

The SEIU team is to be complemented for coming to their member's support, and all City employees should be sure they know who they can count on to represent them. It's not the Kriseman administration and certainly not Human Resources and the HR Director.

Think all of this doesn't work? As I write this, my Post Kriseman muzzling City employees  has had over 120 views so far and not one comment.

No matter what the Mayor says in front of the cameras and at those award meetings, City employees now know what he really thinks of you. You are the best as long as you agree with him. If you don't, it appears that your constitutional rights, civil rights and personal opinion mean little.

You might want to consider this come election time. Don't worry about remembering, I'll remind you.

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

Parsons Contract is Risky Business

Where's there is smoke, there is fire. The schizophrenia of the Go Hillsborough debacle continues.

Last Wednesday the county commissioners decided Wednesday to audit how Parsons was handed a million dollar blank check via an umbrella miscellaneous engineering contract. 

The county commission should have voted to shut down or at least suspend Go Hillsborough then. However, County Administrator Mike Merrill, acting in his new role as an unelected County Mayor, stepped in and told them not to. Hmm....Who's in charge?

Suddenly, County Administrator Mike Merrill is sending a letter to Sheriff Gee to investigate the Parsons contract as 10 Investigates Noah Pransky reported earlier this week:
Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill has asked Sheriff David Gee to provide a review of the county's Go Hillsborough procurement following a 10 Investigates report that raised questions about the behind-the-scenes influence of a well-connected consultant. Merrill also suspended work on the transportation project's outreach "until a satisfactory resolution can be reached."
To be totally independent, FDLE should do the investigation and the investigation should not be done by anyone local or who is funded by the county commissioners.

An investigation of the Parsons contract must at least go back to January 2014 when suddenly County Administrator Mike Merrill took over responsibility for the transportation initiative from the facilitator Herb Marlowe. With this new responsibility, Merrill was put in a prime position to be able to direct contracts for this effort. Merrill is also responsible for any financing or bonding of any boatload of new tax dollars. Lots of power in having dual responsibility as County Administrator and also responsibility for the county's critical transportation initiative to be able direct an outcome, perhaps already decided.....

Remember it was County Administrator Mike Merrill who proposed last year after he took over the transportation initiative, that the governing Board of our transit agency, HART, be taken over by all electeds. Can you say PSTA?

We asked when the county commission voted in the Sunshine directing Merrill to takeover responsibility for the transportation initiative. His responsibilities changed and Merrill had to hire numerous high level staff to cover his day job while he focused on the transportation initiative. To date, we have not received an answer.

A full investigation should go back to March 2013 when the BOCC created the Transportation Policy Leadership Group. We wrote about a circular money trail surrounding Go Hillsborough here

An independent investigation must review any and all communications and documents of anyone associated with the transportation initiative and Go Hillsborough, including emails, cell phone messages, text messages, social media messages, memos. We cannot leave it up to the owner of the cell phone to determine if there were messages involved regarding this entire debacle. That sounds eerily familiar to the Hillary Clinton server scandal.

Complaints, questions and public records request began as soon as the County handed Parsons Brinckerhoff the million dollar no bid contract September 5, 2014. Unfortunately, County staff and the electeds refused to take these questions, comments and complaints seriously and address them early on. Now it's a year later and we have this big mess.

The intent of the Consultant's Competitive Negotiations Act (CCNA) procurement process, which is how Parsons was awarded the Go Hillsborough campaign work, is for general and civil engineering services, governed under Florida Statute 287.055.

Florida Statute 287.055 states:
287.055 Acquisition of professional architectural, engineering, landscape architectural, or surveying and mapping services; definitions; procedures; contingent fees prohibited; penalties.—(1) SHORT TITLE.—This section shall be known as the “Consultants’ Competitive Negotiation Act.”
(2) DEFINITIONS.—For purposes of this section:(a) “Professional services” means those services within the scope of the practice of architecture, professional engineering, landscape architecture, or registered surveying and mapping, as defined by the laws of the state, or those performed by any architect, professional engineer, landscape architect, or registered surveyor and mapper in connection with his or her professional employment or practice.
Where is the precedence of any other county in the state of Florida using a CCNA umbrella "Miscellaneous Engineering Services" contract to procure PR, marketing, electioneering and campaign work to push a sales tax hike referendum? 

Go Hillsborough was campaign work from the get go. We know Leytham was involved from the start confirmed by her text message dated October 1, 2014 as reported by Pransky's 10 Investigates report to deputy county administrator Lucia Garsys. Why would a PR person be telling the County how to answer questions about the Parsons procurement process that they, the county, used? 
Text message from Beth Leytham to
deputy county administrator Lucis Garsys on 10/1/2014

When did all the county commissioners know Leytham was part of the deal with Parsons? When did County Attorney Chip Fletcher know Leytham was part of the deal with Parsons? When did Mayor Buckhorn know Leytham was part of the deal with Parsons? 

Who knew what when?

In October 2014, Beth Leytham politicized this work effort as she began scheduling November focus groups, micro-targeting voters most likely to oppose a sales tax increase. This occurred before Parsons Brinckerhoff ever presented to the Policy Leadership Group at their October meeting. Parsons, of course, did not include in their public presentation that their PR sidekick was already doing electioneering and campaign work with your tax dollars.

By November 2014, Beth Leytham had already hijacked the name "Go Hillsborough" from Connect Tampa Bay, our local transit lobbyist. Connect Tampa Bay's plan presented to the public in January 2014 for a 1% sales tax hike was called "Go Hillsborough", as reported then by the Tribune:
On Thursday night, Connect Tampa Bay rolled out its vision of what a new transportation system should look like and how to pay for it, details that county commissioners and the county's three mayors are still discussing.
The group's plan, called “Go Hillsborough,” advocates a 1 cent sales tax increase that would raise $204 million annually in today's dollars.
Leytham has ties to Kevin Thurman, the Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay, who presented their plan. Thurman is also a political consultant who does not disclose who his clients are. Thurman has been the Tribune's go to person too often on Go Hillsborough.  We now know the very cozy relationship Leytham has with the Tribune editorial board of which the Tribune has never disclosed. 

Thurman has leaked information throughout this initiative including what we posted here in May. It was the county, and either County Administrator Mike Merrill, himself or his staff, who handed poll information to Thurman. We understand Thurman found out about the poll information through Mayor Buckhorn's office.
(Side note when we asked the county for a copy of the AEComm transit assessment report last May under similar circumstances, we were denied a copy until later.)
After speaking with Eric Johnson at county center, the Eye found out it wasn't the county who was publicizing the results of their poll today. It wasn't the county who handed the results to Salinero. It wasn't even Salinero of the Tribune asking the county for the poll results. We are told the county had planned to publicize the results at next weeks Transportation Policy Leadership Group meeting. 
It was Kevin Thurman, a paid lobbyist as Executive Director of the pro transit group Connect Tampa Bay, who requested the poll results from the county. It was Kevin Thurman who handed the results off to Mike Salinero. Since that information was not pointed out in Salinero's article, readers probably thought Salinero got the poll results directly from the county or Transportation Policy Leadership Group. We wonder how the Transportation Policy Leadership Group must feel about a poll they sanctioned being released to the media before they have had a chance to review and comment on the results.
Taxpayers are paying Leytham hundreds of thousands of dollars and she has to hijack the name of the local transit lobbyists plan....Makes one wonder who created that name for Connect Tampa Bay to begin with.....

A Public Records Request from the county confirmed that Parsons Brinckerhoff provided NO Engineer of Record for the Go Hillsborough work and there are NO signed and sealed engineering documents resulting from their work done for the Go Hillsborough initiative. Statue 287.055 was never intended to enable engineering firms to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars to politically well connected PR firms to do marketing and campaign work to put sales tax hikes on the ballot.

Back to how Parsons was handed their million dollar taxpayer funded blank check.....

Parsons Brinckerhoff's umbrella CCNA contract for "Miscellaneous Engineering Services" was one of numerous engineering firms initially awarded these contracts in June 2012. At a June 2014 BOCC meeting, Parsons CCNA contract was extended for 2 more years, conveniently 2 months before the August 2014 PLG meeting where suddenly they voted to hire a so-called transportation expert for public engagement and specifically stated do NOT hire a PR firm to do it.

Interesting timing too, Bob Clifford, resigned as Executive Director of TBARTA last May 2014 and immediately went to work for Parsons Brinckerhoff in June 2014. Clifford sat in the audience at the August PLG meeting where they voted to hire a so-called "transportation expert" to do public engagement. What did he know and when?

Find Parsons umbrella CCNA contract here

This is how Parsons got awarded this $1.35 million boondoggle contract without the county commissioners ever having to originally vote on the contract award. Work orders were used against an umbrella contract to simply keep increasing the cost of this effort from less than $500K to a million dollars to now $1.35 Million. 

Using the CCNA umbrella contract enabled Parsons to immediately subcontract PR and campaign work to Beth Leytham - no transparent bid, no RFP, no requirements.

In Noah Pransky's 10 Investigates report interview with Leytham, she admits the Parsons effort is about getting another transportation referendum on the ballot and then the effort gets handed off to a private advocacy campaign or lobbying group that supports it to advocate for it. 

Hmmm. That advocacy campaign would be another lucrative opportunity for a politically well connected PR firm....

According to Pransky's report, Leytham texted County Administrator Mike Merrill on August 19, 2014, in what appears to be an effort to steer the public engagement work to her transportation client Parsons Brinckerhoff. We assume she knew that when that occurred she would get her piece of the huge taxpayer funded pie and she would be the real orchestrator of the campaign

June and July 2014 PLG meetings were cancelled. Merrill stated at the May 2014 Policy Leadership Group (PLG) meeting that transit projects would be publicly presented at the June PLG meeting. That NEVER happened and those presentations never occurred. Why?

Remember Mayor Buckhorn's comment at the May 2014 PLG meeting was that rail was part of the plan and everyone knew it......

Suddenly when the PLG reconvened in August 2014 the PLG was voting to hire a "transportation expert" to do public engagement - at Merrill's request. 

What was going on behind the scenes between May and August 2014 that caused the PLG to forego publicly discussing transit projects but all of a sudden voting to hand this effort off to a third party?

The text message below from Pransky's report from Leytham to Merrill was a week AFTER the August 12, 2014 PLG meeting where the PLG voted to hire a "transportation expert" to do public engagement. Not one county commissioner or PLG member mentioned or questioned at the August PLG meeting what the cost of this effort would be. Why? Were they told behind the scenes and did not want to publicly discuss? Was the information in this text message below from Leytham to Merrill also given to the county commissioners? It mentions a cost of $1.2 million....

Leytham would never have sent that text message without her knowing full well that the end result of this so-called public engagement was another sales tax referendum. That was baked in from the start.

Go Hillsborough was always a marketing campaign for another huge 30 year tax hike referendum that captures rich voter information and contact information - all at taxpayer expense.

That answers the question why the County awarded a scope of work to Parsons Brinckerhoff titled "Hillsborough County Transportation REFERENDUM Support". It's PR, marketing and campaign work to push another referendum not engineering work. County Administrator Mike Merrill cannot feign ignorance on how this was awarded to Parsons because we know Leytham texted him about it. Who else did Leytham text?
County awarded Parsons work titled "Hillsborough County
Transportation REFERENDUM Support"
That's why for a million taxpayer bucks in June the Parsons/Leytham/Merrill team proposed a huge 30 year tax hike before we ever got a plan. Propose the tax then figure out what it will pay for - sound familiar?

Professional engineering work does not include electioneering/campaign work and certainly does not include micro-targeting voters. This campaign has been flawed and very sloppy. It appears there are violations of the CCNA contract itself, perhaps because it was being run by a PR firm not an engineering firm. Why did "they" think they could get away with it?  Because they have before? We have posted previously on the Eye about many of these issues.
  • Leytham launched the website (domain owned by ad agency Chappell-Roberts not the County), at taxpayer expense of course, in February without any disclaimers that information provided to or on that website was subject to public records access. She did the same thing with the $1.2 million federal HUD grant the city of Tampa received and steered to Parsons/Letham for InVision Tampa. It took about two weeks after raising the issue with county staff and county commissioners that the disclaimers were finally added to the Go Hillsborough website.
  • Go Hillsborough refused to comply with my Statute 119 Public Records Request for copies of documents related to activities conducted at taxpayer expense until the media, Channel 10's Mike Deeson also requested them as I posted here. Section 10.1 of the CCNA contract states that Parsons (and any subcontractors) must comply with all federal, state and local laws, rules and regulations. That would include our Sunshine laws and complying with public records request from anyone, not just the media.
  • Go Hillsborough displays information making claims without any source or source data citations. Engineers do not do that, PR marketing firms do.
  • Go Hillsborough displays at their meetings pictures of LA traffic insinuating it is Hillsborough County. Engineering firms do not do that, PR marketing firms do.
  • Go Hillsborough was deceptive about the information they provided the public.
  • Section 16.1 of the CCNA contract states that Parsons shall make no statements, press releases or public releases concerning the contract or its subject matter without first notifying the County and securing its prior consent in writing. On August 17, 2015, conveniently on the same day Go Hillsborough started their 2nd round of meetings costing taxpayers $350K, Leytham sent out a Go Hillsborough Press Release stating Go Hillsborough was bringing back the 1% sales tax hike. I requested on September 9 via a Public Records Request a copy of the written consent from the county related to approving this press release. To date I have received no response. 
Taxpayers are paying hefty Parsons engineering consulting rates but what we got was a marketing and electioneering campaign. This work should NEVER have been procured under the CCNA umbrella professional engineering services procurement process.

And taxpayers should be very concerned because taxpayers must be protected from the use of taxpayer monies being used against the taxpayer.

Does a CCNA contract that is intended for procuring general and civil engineering services, not campaign work, protect taxpayers? Does an umbrella miscellaneous engineering contract include any contractual/legal protections that prevent Parsons, Leytham or any other subcontractors, ad agency Chappell-Roberts, Jacobs Engineering or anyone else subcontracted, from handing over rich voter information, contact information or other rich information they gathered about or from Go Hillsborough participants, obtained all at taxpayer expense, to anyone? What prevents any of these people from handing over rich information to a private advocacy campaign, another lobbying organization or even a candidate who supports a sales tax referendum placed on the ballot?

Does the county have all the information and data taxpayers paid to gather?

Another question that must be answered is exactly who all has received taxpayer money from the Parsons contract. We know Leytham subcontracted to Chappell-Roberts, were there others? Who has had access to all the data and information gathered at taxpayer expense? Any candidates? Kevin Thurman? Connect Tampa Bay? (Brandie Miklus who co-founded Connect Tampa Bay works for Parsons subcontractor Jacobs Engineering) 

The Parsons CCNA contract, never intended to be used for broad public engagement, PR and marketing campaign to put a referendum on the ballot, does not appear to protect taxpayers.

Taxpayers are at risk.

Time for the County to shut down Go Hillsborough now. 

Time for the County to receive in writing from Parsons that they or any of their subcontractors or sub-subcontractors (name them all) will NOT hand any information gathered at taxpayer expense to anyone other than the County - who paid for the effort, should own all the data gathered and it should be subject to public records access.

Because this Parsons contract is risky business to taxpayers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Go Hillsborough Circling the Wagons?

Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive.

Perhaps the Go Hillsborough team is thinking they should have studied more Shakespeare... or whomever that quote is attributed to these days (actually Sir Walter Scott, but Shakespearean Tragedy is quite fitting).

The fallout from the work here at, and recently, Noah Pransky's investigative reports on WTSP continues.

Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill has asked Sheriff David Gee to provide a new review of the county's Go Hillsborough engineering contract following a 10 Investigates report that raised questions about the behind-the-scenes influence of a well-connected consultant. Merrill also suspended work on the transportation project's outreach "until a satisfactory resolution can be reached."
"To ensure continued public engagement, these allegations must be thoroughly and independelty [sic] investigated to preserve trust in local government," Merrill wrote Gee in a letter sent Monday afternoon.
Well that's interesting.

In Merrill's letter to Gee, he pointed the contracting award process, and also suspended work on Go Hillsborough.
The purpose of requesting this investigation is to determine whether this procurement and contract aware meets all requirements for Florida Statues [sic] and of County Commission procurement policies, and whether there has been any violation of State of Florida ethics rules, as applicable.
While this investigation is underway until a satisfactory resolution can be reached, I have directed Parsons Brinkerhoff and all the subcontractors engaged by Parsons in this contract to suspend work until further notice. Furthermore, the county will only process payments to Parsons for work completed to date. 
Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive.

The story was also picked up by the Tribune.  When asked about the County Commission's plan to have an audit of Go Hillsborough performed by newly hired internal auditor Peggy Caskey,
“It needs to be an independent auditor,” said Tampa Tea Party founder Sharon Calvert. “Because Peggy Caskey, they just hired her from the clerk’s office. She’s already looked at this one time before.”
And as Noah Pransky reported, Caskey's earlier look was only a review, not a full audit, and did not address many questions that he and have raised.

As we've documented in this blog, there have been numerous missteps and fumbles, from very questionable if illegal awarding of the Go Hillsborough contract to the Parsons/Leytham team, to transit activist co-founder of Connect Tampa Bay working events, to using Los Angeles traffic pictures to illustrate Hillsborough traffic jams, not to mention the exorbitant costs, to name just a few. It's been a mess from the get go.

It's a crisis of their own making.

Oh this too.

Text message of Leytham's talking points sent to 
Deputy County Administrator Lucia Garsys
A little "chewing" on your politicians to warn them of the issues should have been heeded this time rather than listening to "5 simple bullet points" from Leytham.

As if a few talking points can hide the deceptions and cover up the mess made in part by Leytham.

Did you note that date? It's from October 1, as in 2014.

That's almost a year ago we were warning the commissioners of the problems.

Oh what a tangled web we weave. When first we practice to deceive.

Now they're circling the wagons.

County administrator Mike Merrill has asked Sheriff David Gee to provide the investigation of Go Hillsborough.

Some of the commissioners are now getting a little antsy.

Merrill's feeling it too.

He know's who'll get sacrificed.

Tangled up in that web.

UPDATE: Fixed broken image of text message.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Go Hillsborough - the citizens speak, but the special interests decide

A Guest post by Thomas Rask, B.Sc., M. Sc. activist for good government 

Go Hillsborough is a county-funded "community engagement" effort aimed at finding out what transportation priorities Hillsborough County voters have, and how they want to pay for them. From the beginning, critics suspected that the Go Hillsborough process was rigged in favor of arriving at a sales tax increase as the only solution. Below, I compare statements made by Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill with outcomes to show that the public policy process has been corrupted once again.

A brief history: the county used to pay for roads out of their other tax revenue. The county historically paid for roads through general property tax revenues but stopped when the county diverted that road funding to other things during the recession. The 7th cent sales tax, the Community Investment Tax, was passed in September 1996, and then promptly spent and bonded out. Despite promises to the contrary, very little was spent on roads. Citizens pay higher taxes and county government takes a larger slice of the pie, but citizens get broken promises and worse roads.

At a Go Hillsborough public meeting on 4/9/2015, I spoke to Hillsborough County administrator Mike Merrill about the Go Hillsborough effort and transportation issues. Among policy priorities being expressed by the public, Mr. Merrill said that "[road] resurfacing is number one, then road expansion, and then transit is a priority. But really, when I hear people talk about transit at these meetings, then it's fixing our existing system. They aren't even talking about rail".

Since that conversation in April, the Parsons/Leytham/Merrill team proposed only one funding solution, a sales tax hike. They publicly proposed a 1/2% sales tax increase to the Policy Leadership Group and then behind closed doors and without any governing authority's approval, they unilaterally proposed a full 1% sales tax hike. Either tax hike includes rail projects. But if citizens "aren't even talking about rail", then why is rail transit in all the plans that the county is putting forth? What is causing rail transit to be put into the plans, and why do all plans involve a sales tax hike?

Mr. Merrill also said "when I go out and talk to groups, I tell them: we are not ready for rail. We need to build ridership, and you do that with rubber-tired solutions". By that, Mr. Merrill means buses, and I agree that buses are a better option. But again, we have to ask: then why is rail transit in the tax hike plan?

Mr. Merrill also expressly said that an expansion of the Tampa streetcar line "wasn't on our [the county's] priority list". So for the third time we ask: then why is rail transit in all the tax hike plans that the county has put forward? Let's find out !

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's political campaign consultant Beth Leytham is the Go Hillsborough "community engagement" effort that the county has spent $1.3 million on. Ms. Leytham is the sole employee in a company, The Leytham Group, which is a company she owns. The Leytham Group (i.e. Ms. Leytham) was hired to carry out Hillsborough County's "community engagement" effort.

As we will see, even though county funds are being used to pay Ms. Leytham, she is in fact not advancing the interests of county voters and residents.

Recent reporting by WTSP 10 News reporter Noah Pransky adds to the mounting evidence that the Go Hillsborough "community engagement" effort has been hijacked by special interests. As Mr. Pransky showed, lines of responsibility are blurred when Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn's political consultant Beth Leytham does free campaign work for Mr. Buckhorn.....and then is paid out of county funds to conduct a "community engagement effort" on transportation.

Mr. Merrill also said "I know Buckhorn wants a train, but what I tell him is, look, a modern streetcar, if Vinik will help pay for part of it, and the Feds will pay for part of it, start with a streetcar. Let's see if people actually take the damn thing." That might be a reasonable approach - but why should all Hillsborough County taxpayers fund a project that can and should be funded by the City of Tampa?

Mr. Merrill also said that "the only thing I can think of that might make sense at some point is if CSX would let us use existing tracks to maybe run some light rail some day". Having CSX freight rail traffic share the tracks with light rail traffic is impossible for regulatory and technical reasons, and Mr. Merrill should know that. Therefore, the only thing Mr. Merrill's statement could have meant is buying a rail line from CSX.

However, buying a rail line is extremely expensive, and there is also no evidence that any CSX rail line in Hillsborough County would go from where people are to where they want to be. Why would it - freight rail and passenger rail are two very different animals. Setting the folly of such a rail line purchase aside, not even this "only thing that might make sense" policy choice is in the final tax hike plan.

In summary, none of the county priorities and positions that Mr. Merrill expressed are in the final plans. The inescapable conclusion is that Ms. Leytham is inappropriately shaping the final plan to benefit narrow interests. Powerful economic interests want to fill their order books with boondoggle rail transit projects at taxpayer expense, just as in 2010. Worse yet, this is being done even though Mr. Merrill himself said that no one is coming to the public meetings and asking for rail transit.

Ms. Leytham is not stupid - to understand her motivations, you just have to follow the money to the special interests she represents. When doing so, think "rail transit cartel".

The final thing Mr. Merrill said to me is "it is interesting how this thing is rolling out". Well, it sure is interesting. To understand why certain things are done around the Tampa Bay area, we need to know more about these close personal relationships among some political insiders.

I am confident we will learn more on that topic in due course.

Friday, September 18, 2015

New Take on that Rashid Rant

We condemn Sam Rashid's and anyone else's misogynist, sexist and other needless derogatory comments.

But he did raise some points the media chose to ignore despite their never ending coverage of the rant, until WTSP's Noah Pransky independently broke the story that was the subject of Rashid's rant. Rashid's comments were directed about Beth Leytham's behind the scenes cronyism, much of which has been covered in this blog over the last year. However, Rashid's language overshadowed the subject of his comment.

Which got us thinking... there might be a few more dots to connect that no one else has explored.

It did occur us the last week of so during the Sam Rashid kerfuffle, the local media was hyperventilating over a hot-headed, personal comment Rashid made on Facebook, obviously not intended for wide public consumption. It's not the first time for Rashid, who got in hot water earlier for some comments about Facebook posts on judges.

Sam Rashid
The Tribune and Times were all over the story, each publishing several articles.

The Tribune published lead editorial, a Joe Henderson column, and 5 other articles all critical of Rashid's misogynistic language and generally supportive of Leytham and Go Hillsborough.

Only to be beat out by the Times, which is now up to 11 articles and counting including an editorial and an Ernest Hooper column, John Romano commentary, and Sue Carlton.

Fair enough if a bit more than overdone.

In this day and age, this once again shows anything you say can and will be used against you in any way if it's convenient to do so by your opponents.

This time, and this timing, it was very very convenient to do so.

But neither the Tribune nor the Times ever discussed the merits of Rashid's statement, which that Beth Leytham is behind much of the mess that is Go Hillsborough, pulling the levers of power behind the scenes, crossing the gray lines between lobbying, activism, and policy, and political campaigns.

Now let's open up a few more questions about the Rashid kerfuffle.

Who was trolling Rashid's Facebook page, and leaked it to the media?

It is rather interesting that someone saw that and it conveniently found its way out to the media.

Would it have been leaked without Rashid's use of language?

Was the leaker aware of Pransky's investigation and upcoming report?

Pranksy stated he had been working on the report for a year, so with all his investigation, the principals in the report knew something was up, and he stated so in his report. Pransky claimed that Leytham and Connect Tampa Bay's Kevin Thurman tried to tarnish him with the Rashid statement.
And when a member of the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, Sam Rashid, made sexist remarks about Leytham in a Facebook comment, Leytham and Kevin Thurman from Connect Tampa Bay repeatedly tried to tie 10 Investigates to the story.
Rashid was not one of 10 Investigates’ more than two dozen sources for this series, nor did WTSP communicate with Rashid during the research or writing of this investigation. Rashid has since removed his comment and apologized to Leytham, but as news of the investigation spread through Tampa-area political circles, Rashid told the Tampa Bay Business Journal he won’t resign from his board position until after 10 Investigates’ story is published.
Despite repeated assurances that there was no WTSP/Rashid relationship whatsoever, Thurman tried to “withdraw” a quote he provided until it was explained to him if Rashid was a source for our report. Leytham sent numerous text messages, e-mails, and voicemail messages to media outlets in Tampa Bay suggesting the upcoming investigation had no credibility because Rashid was awaiting it.
We can conclude that Leytham and Connect Tampa Bay's Kevin Thurman definitely tried to use the Rashid rant to blunt Pransky's critical report.

Beth Leytham
What is the Tribune's and the Times relationship with Leytham?  She claims in her practice as a PR firm to have relationships in the media, including the editorial boards on both papers. We know for a fact she has met with the editorial boards regarding Go Hillsborough. Her relationship with the editorial staff is something she has stated as one of her qualifications for PR work.

Why did neither the Tribune nor the Times editorial writers disclose their relationship with Beth Leytham?

Were the Tribune and the Times played for gullible pawns in this power play?  How much of their blind support for Go Hillsborough has been influenced by Beth Leytham?

Leytham claims to be good at what she does, including crisis management.  What is the real crisis here?

Is it Sam Rashid's rant?

Or is the real crisis the failing message behind Go Hillsborough?

Who is responsible for that failing message?

Did Leytham or other Go Hillsborough supporters use Rashid's rant to attempt to preempt Pransky's report critical of her relationships and her work on Go Hillsborough?

After all, preemption and redirection is a well known PR and crisis management technique.

Leytham's good at what she does. Just ask her. She is the Queen of Damage Control.

We're not prone to conspiracy theories when sheer incompetence will explain the mess.

This time, we're not so sure.

Disclosure: We have met Sam Rashid, or at least been in the same room, but have no ongoing relationship. We have met Beth Leytham, or at least been in the same room, but have no ongoing relationship.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Go Hillsborough: A Tale of Cronyism, Corruption and Collusion

As posted consistently at the Eye for the last year, the Go Hillsborough campaign was NEVER a "good faith" public engagement effort to create a transportation plan.  Simply search our blog posts using "Go Hillsborough, Beth Leytham, Parsons Brinckerhoff, or transportation."

Go Hillsborough was a well orchestrated marketing campaign, now costing taxpayers almost $1.5 MILLION dollars, to force a sales tax referendum on the 2016 ballot.

Go Hillsborough was orchestrated behind the scenes with no transparency and outside of our Sunshine laws.

We always speculated and have known for quite sometime that there was back door collusion going on with Go Hillsborough.

Collusion reigned king in the Go Hillsborough phony baloney crony taxpayer funded campaign led by the well connected political insider Crony Queen Beth Leytham.
10 Investigates's Noah Pransky investigates cronyism
 in Hillsborough County and in Tampa
Thanks to Noah Pransky and his 10 Investigates report now we know who has been colluding within this entire Go Hillsborough crony process.
  • County commissioners, some of who have close associations with Crony Queen Leytham.
  • Parsons Brinckerhoff, Crony Queen Leytham's client, a crony engineering firm who has a colorful history of using their political prowess and band of mercenaries to ram tax referendums through that they can then benefit from.
  • Bob Clifford, former TBARTA Executive Director who resigned from TBARTA last May and conveniently went to work for Parsons in June 2014 sat in the audience of the August PLG meeting when the vote was taken to hire the Parsons/Letham team. He's been the face of Parsons throughout the campaign.
  • County Administrator Mike Merrill - he enabled the crony procurement process that circumvented any normal bid process for the public engagement work. He has always wanted another boatload of your tax dollars and has been the face of pushing the sales tax referendum for over a year. 
  • Kevin Thurman, Executive Director of Connect Tampa Bay, the local transit lobbyist who helped the process from the outside by being a leaker of certain information at various times - Crony Queen Leytham was so close to him that she hijacked Connect Tampa Bay's campaign theme "Go Hillsborough" and suddenly CTB removed their Go Hillsborough presentation from their website (but of course we already had a copy of it)
  • The Tribune, who has been pounding the pavement for a sales tax hike since the transportation initiative started over 2 years ago, and instead of investigating Go Hillsborough, has continued to circle the wagons to protect the corrupt process.
  • Mayor Buckhorn, his close ties to Crony Queen Beth Leytham are well documented and he sat as a voting member of the Policy Leadership Group and voted to hire Parsons knowing that hundreds of thousands of tax dollars would get laundered to his campaign PR consultant Leytham.
  • And the cog of this crony wheel is the Crony Queen Beth Leytham. She owns her PR/lobbyist business that is a staff of one - her; and the sucking sound of your tax dollars funneled to her PR firm The Leytham Croup go all to her.
Beth Leytham
This collusion helps explains why there has been little transparency but much deception with this entire Go Hillsborough process.

County commissioners cannot feign ignorance. I have made numerous public comments at BOCC meetings. I have spoken to county commissioners, some numerous times, about the crony Parsons Brinkcerhoff contract and the corrupted process. 

In fact, I asked the county commissioners to stop funding Go Hillsborough at the July 15 BOCC meeting, the day before the July 16 Policy Leadership Group meeting Merrill wanted the Policy Leadership Group to vote to continue pursuing the 1/2 percent sales tax increase proposal. Click on the second HTV link (afternoon session) here and scroll to about 3:52 at the end to listen to my public comment. 

On July 16 all the county commissioners, except Stacy White, voted to continue pursuing the 1/2 percent sales tax hike proposed. They also agreed to handing the crony Parsons/Leytham team another $350K of our tax dollars. This time Merrill conveniently worked out for the municipalities to chip in a $100K so the county would cough up $250K, the upper limit of what Merrill has authority to unilaterally approve with no vote needed by the county commissioners.

County Administrator Mike Merrill cannot feign ignorance. Merrill cannot say he had nothing to do with procuring the Parsons contract. I began submitting Public Records Request for documentation about the Parsons contract and how this public engagement work was procured on September 9, 2014. I have a paper trail since then that can be a post for another day.

County staff cannot feign ignorance as I have spoken to too many of them since September 2014 about too many issues swirling around Go Hillsborough and the million dollar blank check no bid contract "handed" to Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Leytham, who supposedly was known for her crisis management skills for others cannot coverup her own crisis that she created and enabled.

When cronyism and collusion collide, there is corruption.

There's more so stay tuned.

But you can take action NOW! The county commissioners cannot allow this corrupted process to continue.

Contact our county commissioners and DEMAND they vote to shut down the crony corrupt Go Hillsborough campaign at tomorrow's BOCC meeting. Not another taxpayer dime should be spent on the corrupt Go Hillsborough campaign.

Better yet - show up at the BOCC meeting tomorrow, sign up before 9am to make a public comment and tell the county commissioners directly.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

PSTA CEO continues to hang on to his job

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

Then there is the whole issue of Miller deciding to fight a termination and what might actually come out.

Brad Miller CEO of The Pinellas County Public Transportation System, PSTA, has a checkered history with the agency.

It seems the PSTA Board of Directors, made up of mostly elected officials, just can't bring itself to deal with their sometimes wayward CEO.

A recent 10 News Investigate Report by Mike Deeson: PSTA personnel committee kicks can down the road on CEO details the latest PSTA attempts to deal with the issue through its Personnel Committee.

There was a glimmer of hope at the Personnel Committee meeting when Dunedin Mayor Julie Bujalski offered a motion to fire Miller, which could not even get a second from any of her fellow Board members.

If you would like to see Miller's evaluations by the PSTA Board Members, you can read them here: Brad Miller PSTA CEO Annual Evaluations

Given Miller's history of misusing Federal funds, lying to the Board and illegally audio taping an employee's telephone conversation about a disciplinary action without the employee's knowledge it seems the transgressions are enough to warrant Millers moving on.

However, apparently not for the PSTA Board.

It could be that the PSTA Board is just trying to wait Miller out hoping he will resign and avoid the severance pay and the hassle.

Flawed thinking on their part.

Then there is the whole issue of Miller deciding to fight a termination and what might actually come out.

The terms for Miller's removal seem to be met. The real question is why has the PSTA Board waited so long to make a decision?

Through a public records Request, I acquired a copy of Miller's Employment Agreement with PSTA. It's a little long but an interesting read.

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, September 8, 2015

Circling the Wagons Yet Again

The Tribune is in full "circle the wagon" mode because the Go Hillsborough campaign is so flawed and full of deception.

Yesterdays Tribune editorial "Tampa’s growth a flawed vision without better transportation" at least admits it is Tom Tom, the maker of GPS devices, who makes the Go Hillsborough claim that we have the 11th worst traffic.

....TomTom, that listed Tampa as having the 11th worst traffic congestion in the nation.
However, Tom Tom does not provide any source data or methodology they used for making such claim. We understand Tom Tom refused to provide that information when asked.

Go Hillsborough makes the same claim and other claims in their campaign without ever citing any source, source data or methodology for their claims. Transportation experts will always cite their sources. PR lobbying firms creating false narratives don't.

Go Hillsborough's claim that we have the 11th worst traffic in the country is easily debunked with the updated INRIX/Texas Transportation Institute 2014 traffic study. Tampa Bay is nowhere near #11 in traffic congestion and their source data and metrics are included.

We all know our local infrastructure, including our local roads and storm water, need attention, preserving, improving and, of course, need funding. They have been neglected for years. Why hasn't the Tribune asked why the county keeps holding our road funding hostage? Because they don't care about our local roads? Because they want high cost trains?

We also know that the county has money but the county continues refusing to use existing monies on basic responsibilities of local government, funding our infrastructure. The county has $123 million of NEW revenue for FY2016 yet only $2,8 million is going to roads. Does the Tribune ever look at the county budget and ask anything? Apparently not.

We have confirmed over and over that the Go Hillsborough campaign has been deceptive and flawed from the moment County Administrator Mike Merrill "handed" crony Parsons Brinckerhoff a million dollar blank check to create a transportation plan sales tax referendum marketing campaign.

Work Order for no bid contract County handed to Parsons Brinckerhoff
for "Transportation Referendum Support"
Merrill and others knew exactly what Parsons Brinckerhoff planned to do - subcontract out their phony public engagement work to their crony PR lobbyist sidekick Beth Leytham. Leytham was Buckhorn's PR campaign consultant when she took over the Parsons effort. Buckhorn is a voting member of the Policy Leadership Group who voted to hire Parsons and Leytham.

What a deal for Buckhorn and Leytham. He was able to direct hundreds of thousands of county tax dollars, from the cool million the county handed to Parsons, to his campaign PR consultant. The city of Tampa did not even have to contribute a dime.

As we previously posted here, lobbyist Leytham immediately started micro-targeting voters most likely to oppose a sales tax increase. She didn't even wait for Parsons to present to the Policy Leadership Group last October. These activities were not done in a vacuum. People knew and we know it.

Go Hillsborough is so flawed and deceptive they are forced to display pictures of traffic in LA at their meetings insinuating it is traffic here. Apparently, Go Hillsborough thinks the public will believe anything they say. Who are they kidding? The Tribune?

Go Hillsborough goes rogue when Leytham issues a Press Release unilaterally stating, with NO governing authority to do so, that the 1% sales tax is back. Decisions made behind closed doors outside of our Sunshine laws to double down on the tax is no problem for the Tribune.

We know Leytham and the Tribune editorial board are good buddies. Leytham is a political insider/lobbyist with easy access to electeds and other power brokers. The Tribune also wants access and can get it through her. We're left wondering - does Leytham write the Tribune's editorials on this issue?

Leytham, at taxpayer expense, met with the Tribune editorial board earlier this year about Go Hillsborough. Remember Leytham is getting hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars from Go Hillsborough. We understand that conversation included Go Hillsborough's message must mute anything from NoTaxForTracks, who led the opposition of the 2010 rail tax.

Is the Tribune that scared that another proposed 30 year $3.5 - $7 BILLION tax increase won't pass again?

Taxpayers are paying hefty "transportation expert" consulting rates, almost $1.5 million taxpayer dollars, for this Go Hillsborough effort that is a deceptive marketing campaign.

The Go Hillsborough campaign has created a $1.5 million taxpayer funded mess of deception, lies and half-truths. The mess is amplified as the Go Hillsborough campaign colludes with others.

Taxpayers in Hillsborough deserve so much better. The only remedy for this mess is for the county commissioners to step in, take responsibility and shut the Go Hillsborough campaign down NOW.

The Tribune should be investigating the Go Hillsborough deceptive campaign. But they won't. They are too invested in the deception so instead they prefer to be complicit in the deception by echoing it.

There is no way the Tribune can circle their wagons fast enough to "hide" Go Hillsborough's deception.