Friday, October 9, 2015

Go Hillsborough and the Commissioners "Bully" Pulpit

Go Hillsborough was on the agenda at Wednesday's BOCC meeting. The Eye was there.

An archived video of this meeting can be found at HTV. Click on Archived Meetings on the left then search for BOCC Regular Meeting and the date 10/7/2015. There are two links. Click the bottom link where the meeting starts.

Please watch the public comments and then move forward to about 1:13 where the Go Hillsborough agenda item discussion begins. Click the top link to where the meeting continues.

Watch and you can come to your own conclusions about some of the statements made by some of these elected officials.

After the meeting, a few who attended weighed in with some comments.

Some takeaways and commentary from the meeting:

The Director of Procurement Services told us that the term "Referendum" used in the work order handed to Parsons was a BENIGN word that staff used. 

According to Websters Dictionary, some definitions of benign are "harmless, gracious, favorable". Referendum, according to Websters is "an event in which people of a county, state, etc. VOTE for or against a specific issue". 

The term Referendum is NOT benign. It equates to an election and that is POLITICAL.

The Director of Procurement also stated because of the short time frame requested to get the work done in 6 months (by March 2015), the CCNA process was appropriate. That's ridiculous considering the reality of where were are today over a year later - we have a huge tax proposal and NO plan. Reality is we have a mess that happens when the county simply hands a million dollar blank check to Parsons with a scope of work titled "Hillsborough County Transportation Referendum Support".

The reality of where we are today is what happens when there is nothing documented - NO bid, NO RFP, NO requirements and NO adequate oversight and NO adequate project management. True project management understands that the requirements and expectations documented at the start of a project is most important. With no requirements, the taxpayers nor the commissioners can determine the success of spending $1.35 Million taxpayer dollars for an effort that has taken too long and cost too much.

Wednesday's meeting ironically started off with a commendation from Sandy Murman recognizing October as Bullying Prevention Month. Were some of the commissioners sleeping during the commendation and missed the message?

In addition, when public comment is announced, Chairwoman Murman tells the audience the comments may not be directed personally against a commissioner or staff member but rather directed at the ISSUES.

The commissioners hear that statement at every meeting and know the rules whether they were paying attention at the time or not.

Some Alynsky style PR tactics were used by some commissioners to make accusations about a "few" ideologues making " bogus claims of cronyism and impropriety." Apparently, the county was so concerned about those "bogus claims" that they asked the Sheriff's office to investigate. 

Some of those so-called "ideologues" were proposing a Plan B to the commissioners during public comment. The "ideologues" who spoke were dealing with the issues of Go Hillsborough and transportation not name calling.

Did a text message not get received in time to alter the commissioner's script he was reading? 

We note that finally some commissioners were wondering why the cost of Go Hillsborough was so high. However, they have no one to blame but themselves. The Eye's been asking that question since last September and could never get an answer from county staff or commissioners. Isn't providing oversight a basic responsibility of our county commissioners?

When the PLG/county commissioners voted last August to hire Parsons Brinckerhoff, not one county commissioner or elected official asked, in the Sunshine, how much the effort was going to cost. County Administrator Mike Merrill did not even bring it up and he's the budget guy. Merrill knows how to suddenly "find" money when needed so we assume the commissioners knew Merrill would "find" whatever monies were needed.  

Vote to spend gobs of money on "something" without knowing it's cost or asking specifically what work we as taxpayers were actually going to pay for. Horrible way to govern. 

Perhaps the commissioners already knew the cost and it was already baked in but did not want to talk about such a high cost last August. Did the county commissioners get the text message below, thanks to Noah Pransky's 10 Investigates reporting, sent from PR lobbyist Beth Leytham to County Administrator Mike Merrill on 8/19/2014?

The commissioners had other opportunities where they could have questioned the costs but did not. 

The commissioners voted in January to waive the Parsons work order limit of $500K and double the work order amount to almost a million dollars. That vote was rammed through on the Consent Agenda. The Consent Agenda enables the commissioners to approve a long list of items with a single vote. It also prevents any discussion about any single item. Commissioners can remove items from the Consent Agenda and move the item to the Regular Agenda for discussion. No commissioner asked for that item to be removed from the Consent Agenda for a discussion before voting. Another lost opportunity to inquire why a public engagement effort was costing taxpayers a million bucks.

In July the PLG, including all the county commissioners voted to hand the Parsons/Leytham team $350K more of our tax dollars. Again, the commissioners did not question the cost, even as this effort became a run away train wreck taking way too long and being way over budget.

If the commissioners cannot manage $1.35 million and they can not answer why Go Hillsborough campaign costs so much, who wants to give them BILLIONS more to spend?

So the question of the day is why did this effort cost taxpayers $1.35 Million? There's NO engineer of record named or real engineering work being done. Instead, there is hundreds of thousands of dollars of campaign work enriching Beth Leytham, a politically well connected PR lobbyist with very close ties to Mayor Buckhorn and Commissioner Hagan. 

Who else did this contract enrich? The taxpayers deserve to know to whom and where every dime of the $1.35 million went. 

The Sheriff needs to follow the money trail as well as the process trail because the Parsons contract is risky business to taxpayers.

The commissioners decided to do nothing until the Sheriff's investigation was completed. They also decided to have Parsons come back to the 11/5 PLG meeting to present their final work product. Who knows what will happen at that meeting.

The commissioners will then conduct a workshop for further discussion on topics we have been asking for months. What's their Plan B? What other funding options besides a sales tax hike can fund our roads and transportation. 

Why weren't the commissioners asking questions about other funding options months ago? Why weren't the commissioners seriously focusing on a 10 year feasible plan rather than a 30 year boondoggle plan? Why didn't the commissioners ask these questions of the Merrill/Parsons/Leytham team at the June 11 meeting when all that team did was propose a 30 year sales tax hike for a plan that did not exist?

As we have stated numerous times, no true consultant ever proposes only one, take it or leave it, option, to their clients. They always offer multiple options and scenarios.                                      

At the meeting, Commissioner White made a motion to terminate the Parsons contract but it failed 6-1. Shameful that failed because Parsons should have been fired. There's more questions, issues and misdeeds with this Go Hillsborough mess than just how they got the contract. 

The Internal Auditor stated at the meeting that a full audit would take 4-6 months. We assume a more extensive law enforcement investigation may take longer. The Sheriff's  investigation timeline is unknown. 

With the commissioners keeping the crony Parsons/Letham Go Hillsborough team going, some commissioners think the debacle can stay on its original timeline for getting on the ballot. That sounds more like desperation than logical thinking. 

Some commissioners have joined the Tribune in circling the wagons to salvage Go Hillsborough. But when some commissioners are reduced to using bully tactics from their bully pulpit, ironically during anti-bullying month, against constituents who ask serious questions, have valid concerns, disagree with them, offer alternatives.....

Someone must be running scared. 


  1. You can always tell when someone has nothing to say - they resort to personal attacks.

  2. It is time we start collecting signatures for a ban on any tax payer money for any rail project including research. In fact not one dollar on any project that has the world rail in it.

    With that said do not be fooled by this proposal to address a multitude of road issues and light rail. If light rail is authorized this entire tax hike will be spent on it. There will likely be no controls on where the money is ultimately spent.

  3. Thanks Sharon for the report. We have been sharing your work with our members, and calls to action too. I thought I heard FDLE was taking over the investigation, since the Sheriff's budget is part of H.BOCC, no?

    1. The commissioners voted at Wednesday's meeting to do nothing but let the Sheriff's investigation go on - except they are having tainted Parsons come back to present their tainted final work product at the 11/5 Policy Leadership Group meeting instead of firing them. No true consultants start with the answer already decided and work backwards. They would be fired in the private sector and a refund demanded. The commissioners basically stated that they were fine with the Sheriff's office doing the investigation. We have no disparagement against Gee, however not one commissioner also brought up the fact that the county/sheriff's office has a contract with the red light camera company American Traffic Solutions (ATS). The lobbyist for ATS is Beth Leytham. Did she lobby Gee for the contract? Who knows. That's a circle of money too where the county gets the red light camera fees, pays ATS, ATS pays Leytham and some of the money from those fees the county keeps goes to the Sheriff's office. The other item is that Gee endorsed some of the commissioners and Gee was on the host committee for fundraisers for some commissioners. The real question I have asked is who's idea was it for Merrill to send that letter to Gee? Who decided to ask the Sheriff's office vs FDLE? There was never a vote by the commissioners for this action so we don't even know who brought this up and how it got orchestrated with the commissioners. This was all done outside of Sunshine which is how Go Hillsborough has been handled as well. We'll await the findings of the investigation but it must go back far enough and wide enough and deep enough to answer all the who, what, why, when, where and how questions.

  4. Thanks Sharon for the report. We have been sharing your work with our members, and calls to action too. I thought I heard FDLE was taking over the investigation, since the Sheriff's budget is part of H.BOCC, no?