Monday, October 26, 2015

Bring Back Integrity, Remove Merrill from the Transportation Initiative

It is unfortunate that the county commissioners voted at the October 7 BOCC meeting to bring tainted Parsons Brinckerhoff back to present their tainted Go Hillsborough plan at the November 5 Transportation Policy Leadership Ship Group Meeting. The tainted Parsons contract should have been terminated instead. 

The taxpayers are now forced to pay tainted Parsons hundreds of thousands of dollars more while they and the county are being investigated by law enforcement. How tone deaf is that? As we posted previously, the Parsons contract is Risky Business.

We now wonder what County Administrator Mike Merrill may be orchestrating between now and November 5. What buttons and levers are being pushed by the Wizard of Oz behind the green curtain and outside of Sunshine, especially since the commissioners ridiculously scheduled a workshop immediately after the November 5 PLG meeting. What are these folks thinking?

In this TBT article published recently Merrill sounded off:
County Administrator Mike Merrill said part of the problem stems from the ease with which opponents can organize, while backers — who range from homeowner associations to chambers of commerce to concerned citizens — lack a unified voice.
"What they really need to do is let commissioners know that this is very important to them," Merrill said. "Because, mostly, all the board is hearing from mostly is this small band of folks that have been hammering away." (emphasis mine)
How can Merrill honestly make a statement like that?

Merrill has been touring the county for the last year and a half like an unelected County Mayor making presentations pushing for another huge sales tax referendum.  

The presentation Merrill presented titled "A Comprehensive Mobility Proposal can be found here. 

Fourteen pages of Merrill's 35 page presentation is about fixed guideways with numerous pictures of high cost rail, including this one that looks like an accident waiting to happen and  a way to increase congestion.
From Merrill's presentation - train, car lane and bike lane
 An accident waiting to happen
Just THREE pages of Merrill's 35 page Mobility presentation is non-transit needs. It's called "non-transit" and not road needs because that bucket is much more than desperately needed road repaving, road improvements and road projects. The non-transit needs includes sidewalks, bike lanes, trails and expensive complete streets.

From a public records request submitted, I received a list of the organizations that the transportation tax hike presentations were made to. That list can be found here. Note that the tab of the spreadsheet is titled "Coordination meetings". Is that legal?
Merrill's "Coordination Meetings" with local power brokers
and so-called stakeholders
Merrill, his deputy Lucia Garsys and Parsons Brinckerhoff's Bob Clifford have presented to all the local power brokers. County and city of Tampa staff also participated in those meetings. Hagan participated in some of the power broker meetings as well we understand.

Some of those power broker meetings with Merrill, Hagan, other county staffers and city of Tampa staffers were private and not open to the general public. The private advocacy campaign to support a sales tax hike referendum was discussed with county and city of Tampa staff - such as raising money, who would lead the advocacy campaign and when would the campaign start. Discussing an advocacy campaign in these meetings goes way beyond the bounds of educating or reaching out to stakeholders for their input about the transportation issue. 

To digress for a moment. What exactly was said at those meetings? Who has been already been trying to raise money for an advocacy campaign for a sales tax hike referendum that is not even been on the ballot? Have there been any violations of Sunshine laws? Have there been any violations of our electioneering laws? It is ILLEGAL for Merrill, county staff or city of Tampa staff to be discussing or "coordinating" about an advocacy campaign. The law enforcement investigation must find out if any illegal or unethical activity occurred at any of these meetings - perhaps they need to interview those who participated and attended.

Merrill and company presented to numerous taxpayer funded entities, the Chambers, the leader of the rail cartel - Tampa Bay Partnership, the Downtown Partnership, the leaders of civic and community associations, engineering groups and homeowners associations. 

Merrill even presented to 2 partisan Democrat groups. Is that legal or ethical for the County Administrator to be making policy making presentations to a partisan group and to only one political party?

Merrill used his County Administrator power as if he was an elected policy maker to speak to all these groups, organizations and associations and push for a huge sales tax hike. Merrill and company used their "bully pulpit" to speak to thousands of people in an attempt to garner support for a huge sales tax hike referendum.

Now Merrill complains whines that all those people he presented to, and somehow he assumes are all backers of his huge tax hike, lack a unified voice. That is a ridiculous assumption and a ridiculous position. Merrill needs to stop blaming others for the mess he helped create and that occurred on his watch. 

The reality is Merrill and company have been trying to sell a bad, flawed product created by a flawed, crony, unethical and perhaps illegal process. 

Proposing a huge tax hike for a plan that does not exist is totally backwards to any true project management/program management methodology. The reason this effort is so backwards is because the answer was already decided at the beginning. The County handed Parsons a Work Order issued under an umbrella Miscellaneous ENGINEERING Services contract procured through a CCNA process intended for ENGINEERING Services, with a Scope of Work titled "Hillsborough County Transportation REFERENDUM Support".

No wonder there is no unified voice of support. Who wants to back a huge sales tax hike  proposed by the Merrill/Clifford/Leytham team that is now under a law enforcement investigation? 

Merrill should never have been "handed" responsibility for the critical but politically charged transportation issue in January 2014. How did that even happen? 

Somehow Merrill "magically" become the facilitator of the Transportation Policy Leadership Group initiative after Herb Marlowe, the facilitator the county hired in June 2013, left in December 2013. The county commissioners never publicly discussed, never voted on or never took any formal action in the Sunshine to appoint or assign Merrill total responsibility for the transportation initiative. 

That decision was done behind the green curtain and outside of Sunshine. Why? Perhaps because we have separation of powers in our County Charter and the electeds cannot delegate their policy making power to the County Administrator, an unelected bureaucrat.

The County Administrator's role is to implement the policies decided by the electeds. Of course he can provide advice and recommendations to the county commissioners. However it is not the role of the County Administrator, an unelected bureaucrat accountable to no voter, to run around the county on the taxpayer dime acting like a policy maker. 

Merrill had to expand our local government and hire numerous high level staff to do his day job while he focused on transportation. 

At the same time the county was doling out hundreds of thousands of dollars to politically well connected PR lobbyist Beth Leytham via the crony Parsons no bid contract, Merrill hired a new county Communications Director, another brand new high level staff position. While Merrill grows his bureaucracy, the county refuses to appropriately fund our roads and infrastructure.

Merrill is tainted because he's been front and center of this entire transportation initiative mess. His credibility on the transportation issue is shot and trust has been lost.

Merrill has turned the policy making power totally upside down at County Center and that must stop.

The county commissioners must protect the taxpayers and take back control and leadership of our local transportation issue. 

The county commissioners must disengage themselves from the cronies, the lobbyists and the special interests pushing a sales tax hike agenda.

The county commissioners must remove Mike Merrill from the transportation issue.

Because integrity must be brought back to the transportation issue.


  1. Were any of the meetings with county/city staff regarding who will create a PAC to assume the "education not advocacy" campaign (cough cough) done on government time or in government facilities? I thought that was illegal.

  2. This comment from Merrill is hilarious: "County Administrator Mike Merrill said part of the problem stems from the ease with which opponents can organize, while backers — who range from homeowner associations to chambers of commerce to concerned citizens — lack a unified voice." Say WHAT??? Since WHEN have the Chambers and big wheel insiders and their ilk had ANY problem speaking (and getting HEARD)...??? Are you kidding me?? "Unified voice" my hind foot. They are the ultimate insiders. In fact, Mike, it's the opposite -- the "opposition" consists of regular people who have to really work to organize and to get heard..and even THEN..they get dissed and marginalized!

  3. Interesting that you call Merrill tainted. Is it not you that are tainted? You are the treasurer of the County Republican party. You hold the purse strings for the Commissioners, therefore you control the Commissioners. I don't see any disclosure on that issue.
    I find it interesting that you are opposed to allowing the citizens of the County to have their vote on the tax and the transportation issues. Why would you, as a staunch conservative, not allow us to have our vote, in fact you should be leading the fight to ensure that we do get to vote on such a significant issue facing our future. Instead you spew rhetoric and half truths. It's also ironic that you support a gas tax increase yet you fail to mention that the gas tax can be increased WITHOUT any citizen vote. Very strange.
    You call Latham the "Queen". I think we should be calling you "King George III".