Friday, February 26, 2016

No Go Hillsborough

Support for Go Hillsborough is dwindling on the county commission. Good! 

Commissioner Beckner offered up his alternative plan that included a 10 year 1/2 percent sales tax hike at the Budget and Transportation Workshop held Thursday afternoon.

And Commissioner Hagan, Mayor Buckhorn and County Administrator Merrill are not happy. Even Better!

It is revealing what the Times and the Tribune reported from the meeting and some reaction to it. We note the media did not bash Beckner for offering up his alternative plan, even later in the game than Commissioner Murman did last year, like they bashed Murman. Is our media sexist?

From the Times:
County Commissioner Kevin Beckner at a budget workshop Wednesday revealed his vision of a 10-year, half-cent sales tax that would fund transportation improvements.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the Beckner plan "threw the cities under the bus" and negates 2½ years of effort, including nearly 100 public meetings that led to the drafting of Go Hillsborough. That plan, originally supported by Hillsborough's mayors and a majority of county commissioners, has faced a series of setbacks in addition to critiques from the tea party. 
"The vast majority of us were willing to take that risk and not back down in the face of three tea party bloggers sitting in their underwear in their basements in Ruskin," Buckhorn said. "That's not leadership." 
"It kills any option for mass transit, particularly rail in the urban corridor," Buckhorn said. "Without a 30-year time frame, I can't go to the bond market to issue debt. You can't do major, major infrastructure projects like rail without issuing debt."
Desperation can often cause stupid actions. The peeping Tom Mayor of downtown Tampa only Buckhorn has now been reduced to bashing bloggers in basements in Ruskin. Huh? We don't have basements in Florida. But It is Buckhorn and his cronies who are being investigated by law enforcement - not any bloggers.

Buckhorn wants to blame critics from the Tea Party for the Go Hillsborough crony mess he helped create. Buckhorn conveniently ignores the critics from his own political party, the Sierra Club and others. Is Beckner a Tea Partier?

Buckhorn also ignores that even as power brokers (him) and unelected bureaurcrats (perhaps illegally) have been begging the business community to pony up $2 million for an advocacy campaign, no one has stepped up to lead the charge.

Buckhorn and the city of Tampa did not take any risk with  Go Hillsborough. The city of Tampa never paid a dime for Go Hillsborough. Buckhorn got to sit back and ride the coattails of county taxpayers who paid for the $1.35 million crony, phony, baloney Go Hillsborough campaign.

Buckhorn created risk with Go Hillsborough by helping to hand his own campaign consultant, the politically well connected Beth Leytham, hundreds of thousands of county taxpayer dollars to run the Go Hillsborough campaign. We're left assuming he thought no one would care and everyone would look the other way. Those silly bloggers - they kept refusing to look the other way.

So much for Buckhorn leadership - it can lead to cronyism and law enforcement investigations.

Also reported by the Times:
Beckner, a Democrat, said he's had to deal with opposition to Go Hillsborough from his side of the political aisle, as well.
Proof again that Buckhorn is out of touch with his own constituents.

When Go Hillsborough first proposed the 1/2 percent sales tax hike last summer, we said they were making ground sausage - a plan that no one likes.

The Tribune reported about the meeting too:
After two years of meetings and public workshops, Hillsborough commissioners are not even close to a consensus on how to pay for needed road and mass transit improvements.  
The level of division on the seven-person board was evident Wednesday as yet another commissioner came forward with an alternative to the Go Hillsborough transportation plan developed last year at a cost of $1.3 million.

But Jean Duncan, director of Tampa’s Transportation and Stormwater Department, said reducing the tax to 10 years would hurt the city’s efforts to attract federal funds to extend the city’s street car system and to build a commuter rail from downtown to Tampa International Airport. “We need a 30-year plan to leverage those dollars for the street car extension and the rail extension to TIA, and 30 years is needed for operations and maintenance,” Duncan, who was at the commissioner workshop, said. “The 10 years does not support transit in that regard.”
It is about time the public hears some differing opinions on this county commission. Let the sparks fly. Transparency in the Sunshine has been sorely lacking on this commission for a long time.  The county commission needs to stop rubber stamping so many things and take control back from County Administrator Mike Merrill - an unelected County Administrator who works for them not the other way around.

Thank you Jean Duncan. Finally, someone is publicly admitted the only reason for a 30 year sales tax hike for a 10 year plan is to fund Buckhorn's high cost trains. We've been saying that since the 30 year sales tax hike was proposed.

In the Times article Buckhorn also stated "You can't do major, major infrastructure projects like rail without issuing [30 year] debt."

Duncan and Buckhorn confirmed Go Hillsborough is 2010 all over again.

The Tribune also reported:
Hagan, in an apparent effort to call Murman out, suggested that commissioners who supported a gas tax increase “put it on the floor and we’ll vote it up or down.” Murman didn’t bite. 
“I heard it through the grapevine that was coming; I was prepared for the comment,” Murman said after the meeting, referring to Hagan’s ploy. “But to totally discount any options would be premature. Not knowing if the half-cent referendum is going to pass our commission, do you want to be left with no options?” 
Hagan expressed frustration that commissioners, who in just six weeks will vote on whether to hold the referendum, are still floating alternatives that will not address the county’s backlog of failed roads and lack of transit. 
“We spent nearly three years illustrating our enormous transportation deficit and the dire straits of our transportation network,” Hagan said. “We are weeks away from scheduling a referendum and we are still chasing our tails.”
Good for Murman for not taking Hagan's bait. Who orchestrated that strategy behind the green curtain? We can only speculate - Hagan's close confidante Beth Leytham, the Wizard of Oz of County Center Mike Merrill, BOCC Chair Miller or all of them?

We do know it was an intentional tactic by Hagan to take raising gas taxes, a user fee for roads, off the table as a funding source for our roads. Hagan's strategy backfired and his repetitive  talking points are stale and robotic.

Hagan admits what we have always been saying. Go Hillborough was never intended to be an honest, transparent public engagement effort. It was a marketing campaign to push another huge sales tax hike on the ballot. His admission is backed up by his own action trying to take other funding options off the table.

No opportunities were provided for the PLG/county commissioners to transparently, honestly and openly discuss all funding options throughout the entire Go Hillsborough process. It is better late than never for the county commissioners to have these important discussions in the Sunshine. It is disingenuous for Hagan to lament that now others are "floating alternatives" to the Go Hillsborough's proposed sales tax hike when the discussion never occurred.

Lessons learned from the Go Hillsborough mess is our electeds must listen to their constituents, address valid issues and concerns when raised- don't let the issues fester, and stop listening to the special interests and unelected bureaucrats pushing their own political agendas.

Regardless of what comes out of the investigation, Go Hillsborough continues its downward spiral.

With Commission support dwindling in the run up to any Commission vote,

It is now No Go Hillsborough!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Smiley Faces Can't Save Go Hillsborough

It's the end of February and we're still waiting for the Go Hillsborough law enforcement investigation that County Administrator Mike Merrill said last year would be completed by Christmas. Somehow now Merrill has told the commissioners they will vote on Go Hillsborough at the April 6 commission meeting.

While we wait our local media spin doctors are in overdrive. They have been saturating their print space trying to put a smiley face on the crony, flawed and totally unnecessary Go Hillsborough proposed huge sales tax hike. The PR blitz is to prop up a Go Hillsborough campaign that is full of bad baggage and has zero momentum.

Three Sunday's in a row (February 7February 14 and February 21) the Tribune published front page articles spinning Go Hillsborough. While the Tribune refuses to speak to those who oppose the sales tax hike, Tribune reporter Salinero conveniently speaks to people who say they support the tax, including college students from other states. Who knows if the college students, who have not begun to reach their peak earning and taxpaying age, can actually vote in Hillsborough or even know much about our transportation issue or county government, but they want higher sales taxes. Salinero calls Go Hillsborough the "what's in it for me" proposal. We agree. It was an opinion driven marketing campaign done for political expediency to sell another huge sales tax hike.

We know "inside baseball" is being played between the County and our local print media on the transportation issue. Beth Leytham, the politically well connected PR person at the center of the law enforcement investigation has a cozy, close relationship with both the Tribune and Times editorial writers. We always suspected their reporters were also playing the inside game with Merrill and the County. This recent article calls Salinero a "definite county insider" and confirms that suspicion.

There was a time when any hint of cronyism, potential corruption or potential ethical issues, the local print media would be curious. They would investigate, ask challenging questions and attempt to get to the truth. They would do their journalistic job to hold those in positions of power, both electeds and bureaucrats accountable.

That is no longer the case in Hillsborough with our transportation issue. The local print media has joined the "end justifies the means" crowd. Just do whatever it takes to get the sales tax hike on the ballot. Then the media can collude with the County insiders and the deep pocketed (we hear $2 million) private advocacy campaign to do whatever it takes to get the sales tax hike passed.

The Salinero "what's in it for me" plan is actually called the Community Transportation Plan, which sounds a bit Socialistic. But it is not really a plan. It is a laundry list of projects grouped by municipality that is alphabetized not prioritized. The alphabetical list of projects are dumped into three spending buckets based on different revenue spending amounts. Go Hillsborough proposes a 30 year sales tax hike for a so-called 10 year plan - that alone should be a big red flag.

Could the Go Hillsborough laundry list basically be the same alphabetized list of road projects the county had identified in their "Comprehensive Mobility Proposal" created prior to spending $1.35 million the Go Hillsborough campaign?

Since the county simply handed Parsons Brinckerhoff a no bid million dollar blank check and did not go through a transparent bid process, did not document requirements, metrics or expectations, it is impossible to determine or measure Go Hillsborough campaign achieved what was expected. We must say we doubt the county expected a law enforcement investigation.

But were there any commitments made by the County/Parsons regarding what we should have expected from public engagement?

At the October 21, 2014 Policy Leadership Group meeting, County Administrator Mike Merrill and Parsons Brinckerhoff presented their approach for doing public engagement. Merrill and Parsons  touted Parsons proprietary software PRISM tool. We were told this tool was required to do the "rigorous technical analysis" to develop a prioritized project list. Below is the page touting the tool from the October 21 meeting.
Parsons Brinckerhoff's PRISM tool presented
 at 10/21/2014 PLG meeting
The tool again was touted by Merrill at the October 7, 2015 BOCC right after he asked the Sheriff to investigate Go Hillsborough. When Commissioner White courageously and rightly so made a motion at that meeting to terminate the Parsons Brinckerhoff contract, Merrill audaciously brought up the Parsons PRISM tool. From the transcript of that meeting that can be found on the county's HTV website, Merrill told the commissioners:
One of the reasons we chose them [Parsons] is they have a proprietary software system called PRISM…So it isn't just a list of projects but a thorough and rigorous analysis trying to fit projects together to make sense of this thing. That was what we were intended to bring back, to be able to show projects, outcomes, benefits to the public. That piece would probably be missing because we don't have that expertise, that proprietary system. Even though the projects probably haven't changed much during this last phase, we can't do that work, that is why we hired them [Parsons].
Where is that rigorous technical analysis we were promised? Where is all the cost-benefit analysis? Where is the data driven analysis? Where are the performance studies? Where is the data that reflects the benefits we will get, such as how much traffic congestion reduced and/or mobility increased, if said projects get done? Where is a real prioritized list of projects that maps to an actual 10 year timeline? What is the ROI? Where is the business model to support Go Hillsborough? We do not find that information anywhere in the Community Transportation Plan.

No one at County Center can provide a copy of the output from PRISM. No one at County Center will even confirm Parsons used the PRISM tool We now understand county staffers were doing the project prioritization work to coincide with Merrill's FY2017 budget planning that is just kicking off.

Tell us again why Parsons was hired? Why did we hand them $1.35 million? The only answer is the county hired an engineering firm but taxpayers got a PR campaign.

Remember the Peanuts character Pigpen? Pigpen had a cloud of dirt and dust that constantly followed him around. The dust cloud swirling around Pigpen never goes away.

Like Pigpen, Go Hillsborough has a dark cloud hanging overhead and swirling around it. That dark cloud is not going away.

No matter how many smiley faces the media, County insiders, cronies or spin doctors try to paste on its face.

Go Hillsborough - déjà vu all over again

--by Tom Rask

In this article, I will make the case that local Tampa Bay area elected officials refuse to learn from facts and experience. In doing do, they waste tax dollars and are increasingly viewed as stubborn "do-nothings" by voters eager for better roads and less congestion.

For those who do care about transportation in the Tampa Bay area, but have better things to do than read this post, let me sum it up this way: Go Hillsborough is a tax hike. That is likely all that voters will need to know in order to vote no. Feel free to stop reading here. Really, it won't hurt my feelings.

The seven elected officials that make up the Hillsborough County Commission will decide whether to put the scandal-ridden and corrupt Go Hillsborough plan on the November ballot. Here are is a cheat sheet for them to consider in making their decision:
  • It's a tax hike - we covered that one already.
  • More transit won't reduce congestion - politicians keep hinting that more bus or rail transit will reduce traffic congestion. However, their claim is false.
  • Transit ridership is declining - through the first four months of FY2016, transit ridership in both Hillsborough and Pinellas has dropped by over 5% year over year. These numbers will make it hard to argue that there is a "need" for more transit, or that the public demands more transit.
  • Hillsborough 2010 transit tax - 58% voted NO - the "official" explanation for the defeat was that voters didn't have a clear plan to vote on. 
  • Pinellas 2014 transit tax - 62% voted NO - this time, there was a comprehensive plan (Greenlight Pinellas, as it was called). The economy had improved since 2010, yet the election day results showed that voters were still in no mood for tax hikes....especially not for slush funds.
  • Bad plans are easily defeated - in this era of social media, bad plans such as Go Hillsborough are easily defeated. The defeat of Greenlight Pinellas proved that. Buzzfeed showed in 2014 that what's said on Facebook moves public opinion more today than ads or news stories. That trend is only increasing.
  • Orlando rail transit failure - Go Hillsborough has money in it for rail transit. But why would we think rail transit will work in Hillsborough when Sunrail has been a failure in Orlando? They set very low ridership expectations for Sunrail, and yet they can't even reach those low goals.
  • The stench of scandal - the 10 Investigates TV team has doing great work in showing how the public policy process in arriving at the Go Hillsborough. plan was corrupted from day one. It's going to be hard for the public to get that stench out of their nostrils.
  • The payola media - independent investigative journalist Jim Bleyer recently exposed some rather unusual and profitable real estate transactions involving the "conservative" Tampa Tribune. To the public, it looks like the Tribune is being paid to support candidates and causes - including Go Hillsborough.
When those arguments have been made, opponents will have more compelling arguments to make. And more after that, even though the only argument we will need is "it's a tax hike". Meanwhile, the "yes" side will struggle to find good arguments to defend a bad plan.

Best path forward? Kill the rotten-to-the-core Go Hillsborough plan now. If it's placed on the ballot, the whole mess will only end in tears for those who support it.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Gondolas-not the water kind-in Pinellas County

Aerial tramways require minimal ground surface compared with other forms of transportation reducing displacement and imminent domain issues.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
There has been a lot of chatter in Pinellas County and St. Petersburg about gondolas.

Not the water kind, although the thought of Rick Kriseman paddling a bunch high-tech company executives accompanied by a group of smiling millennials through a newly constructed waterway serving only downtown is fascinating, what we are talking about is the elevated version more commonly called aerial tramways

In St. Pete, the name is Aerial Cable Propelled Transit which I would expect to move to County-wide  status as an authority dubbed the Aerial Cable Transit Authority or the ACTA probably chaired by Darden Rice.

If you need some detail, here are the links:

September 29, 2015 Michael Van Sickler Tampa Bay Times Maybe Darryl LeClair was on to something: San Diego considers gondolas

January 26, 2016 Tracey McManus Tampa Bay Times Bay Buzz Gondolas in Clearwater?

February 4, 2016 Tampa Bay Times Daniel Ruth: Gondolas, or more beach traffic jams?

February 16, 2016 Charlie Frago Tampa Bay Times Gondolas in St. Pete: Let the four winds blow

February 20, 2016 Tracey McManus Tampa Bay Times Tampa Bay weather no worry for gondolas, experts say

While this may seem like a new idea, back in the mid 90s, I was part of a very short-lived  team that put together a plan for a sky tram connecting Tyrone Mall, Cross Roads Shopping Center and the then generally undeveloped area where Best Buy and Marshals and Publix are now located. The plan with three stations would have allowed shoppers to shop all three areas without driving from place to place.

We were quietly but politely laughed off the stage. Do not bother to do a public records search you won't find anything.

You have to give the County staff and the Kriseman team some serious credit for thinking out of the box on this one.

There are significant advantages in the idea. Aerial tramways are much less disruptive to construct. They require minimal ground surface compared with other forms of transportation almost eliminating displacement and imminent domain issues.

The possibility of aerial tramway development around commercial areas in Pinellas County and providing transportation to and from the beaches is intriguing to say the least.  

All of this is part of a federal grant application, so we will have to wait and see how it goes.

For me, I like the idea.

E-mail Doc at mail to: 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: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Monday, February 15, 2016

No Case For a Sales Tax Hike, No More Talking About Stalking - Move to Plan B

The Tampa Tribune today published Ken Roberts Letter to the Editor titled ‘No case’ for referendum for sales tax increase. We are reposting his well thought out letter on the Eye and also include some of our own editorial comments.

‘No case’ for referendum for sales tax increase

Should Hillsborough County commissioners vote to put a sales tax increase referendum on the 2016 ballot? Regardless what the specific plan is, should we raise sales taxes to pay for it? A careful look reveals no case for a sales tax increase referendum.

First and foremost: The county already has the money. We have been told for years now that there is no money available to fund transportation improvements, and we must have a new revenue source. But if you ignore what they have been saying and watch what they are doing, you find this is nonsense. During the 2016 budgeting process about $121 million of new money was found. While saying transportation is the top priority for the county, commissioners spent only $8 million of this extra money on transportation.

The people have already donated $121 million. There is no case for us to raise taxes on ourselves for another $117 million a year for the next 30 years. Transportation improvements are expensive enough without paying for them twice.

Second, there are those on the board who say, “We believe in democracy; let’s put it on the ballot and let the people decide.” But, again, if you ignore what they say and watch what they do, this position doesn’t hold water, either. While they are saying they want to let the people decide, what they have been doing is working to deny our right to decide on another important tax item that was scheduled to appear on the 2016 ballot.

State law requires voters to review and re-authorize taxing authorities. In 2016 we were scheduled to vote on whether to continue the taxing authority of the Children’s Board of Hillsborough County, but supporters of a sales tax increase had that item taken off the 2016 ballot. They thought that two tax issues on the same ballot would spell doom for at least one of them, so they went to our state legislators and asked them to act to get it off the ballot to increase the odds of passing a sales tax increase. Our state legislators quietly passed a law and took it off the ballot.

If the county commission believes so strongly in the people having the right to decide, then why take away the people’s right to decide on continuation of the Children’s Board’s taxing authority? The answer is: They are not interested in our right to decide. They are interested in passing a sales tax increase.

Commissioner Sandra Murman has offered an alternative to a sales tax increase for funding transportation improvements. Three components are involved: a 5-cent increase in the gas tax ($25 million); a new mobility fee to pay for the impact of development on the existing system ($30 million); and a reprioritizing of the budget to dedicate a significant amount of new revenues to a transportation fund. Dedicating 50 percent of the $121 million of new money from the 2016 budget would mean $60 million. Add that to the gas tax and mobility fee, and that’s a total of $115 million per year to fund improvements — with no new sales tax increase!

We need to oppose putting a sales tax increase on the ballot and insist the county use the three-step funding approach to improve transportation as outlined above. A sales tax increase is not needed, and a vote to put one on the ballot is a vote for a sales tax increase. Tell the commissioners to vote “no” on putting this on the ballot and use the money they have.

Ken Roberts
Apollo Beach
The writer is with Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation.

Roberts brings up the point how local power brokers and Children's Board lobbyists successfully lobbied Tallahassee last year to get the Children's Board property tax, up for reauthorization in 2016, off the 2016 ballot. Back then the Hillsborough County power brokers were fearful of having two tax referendums on the 2016 ballot fearing they would both be defeated. We never heard a peep about that action from the "let the voters vote on the transportation sales tax hike" crowd. That action actually disenfranchised voters this year from voicing whether to reauthorize the property tax for the Children's Board which recently had to deal with their own cronyism issues.

Received via a public records request was the text message thread below dated 5/21/2015 between crony Beth Leytham and County Administrator Mike Merrill. How often did Leytham meet with the editorial boards as a conduit between her and Merrill to influence Merrill? Leytham informs Merrill that the Governor signed the bill that got the Children's Board property tax reauthorization off the 2016 ballot. Merrill answers Leytham with a hand clap emoticon to display his "glee"and responds "the way is being made clear" [for his huge proposed sales tax hike to get on the 2016 ballot]. Is that nauseating?

Text messages between Beth Leytham and Mike Merrill
on 5/21/2015 (click to enlarge)

5/21/2015 is two weeks before the 6/11/2015 Policy Leadership Group (PLG) meeting where the Parsons/Leytham/Merrill cabal proposed another huge 30 year one-half percent sales tax hike - a huge tax hike for a plan that did not even exist. The cabal knew from the get-go that another sales tax hike referendum was the answer. That is why Merrill was cheerfully clapping when told the Children's Board property tax reauthorization got off the 2016 ballot.  

I have been a consultant and have had consultants work for me and I have never seen communication like this between consultants and the high level executive that hired them. 

Is the language used in this text thread professional? Is the language used in this text thread how consultants and their employer normally communicate? Is the language used in this text thread appropriate between the highest level bureaucrat in the county and the politically well connected PR crony Leytham? 

What consultant and high level executive talks about stalking? 

When Noah Pransky first broke his story about Beth Leytham back last September, Merrill had the audacity to tell Pransky he did not even know who Beth Leytham was in August 2014. That was when Leytham sent Merrill a text message regarding the hiring of a transportation expert [Parsons Brinckerhoff her client] with "communication team in tow" [a team of one - her]. 

That is laughable. How does Merrill get from saying he did not know who Leytham was in August 2014 to having the text message thread above in May 2015 saying it's ok to be stalked by his consultant.

There is something very wrong down at County Center that has enabled cronies and close associates to wield such undue power and influence, and enabled a powerful bureaucracy to spin out of control overreaching its own authority.

The dark cloud hanging over Go Hillsborough is not going away. The process was flawed resulting in a flawed plan. The ethics of the entire debacle stinks. What business community will support and sink $2 million into an advocacy campaign to support such a crony flawed smelly mess? 

Roberts LTE lays out the fiscal reality that we do not need a sales tax hike to fund our roads and transportation. 

There is a way out but the commissioners must use their own political capital which is what they are elected to do. They must dump Go Hillsborough and reign in the bureaucrats to bring integrity back into the process. They must do fiscal due diligence to reprioritize our current budget and use the powers they already have to start funding our roads and transportation NOW.  

Stop pursuing a sales tax hike and stop any further talking about any type of stalking.

We must move on to Plan B!

Update:  Text thread that reflects the names of the Leytham/Merrill text thread can be found here.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

St. Pete's "Art in Transit" has hit a few bumps in the Road

A new approach by the Kriseman administration may benefit everyone.

St. Petersburg, Fl
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

Back when Bill Foster was Mayor the City as part of the "arts destination" concept developed a plan to convert the mundane PSTA bus stops into a "unified artistic vision" Art in Transit.

Funding was about $2.3 million from the City and a series of grants. That is a lot of money.

City staff began negotiating (no bidding) with Carol Mickett and Robert Stack House, Mickett/Stackhouse Studios, world renown artists located in St. Petersburg.

You can get the detail in the Tampa Bay Times article by Charlie Frago Back to the drawing board for St. Petersburg's Arts in Transit project.

Late in December of 2015, after almost eighteen months of not much happening Wayne Atherholt, the City's Cultural Affairs Director, pulled the plug on the Millet/Stackhouse project.

More from Charlie Frago Tampa Bay Times, Kriseman says canceled "Arts in Transit" project wasn't orphaned.

Millet and Stackhouse sit at or near the top of the elite of the St. Petersburg arts community. The project with their names on it would have garnered national if not international attention.

The stuff "arts destinations" are made of.

So What Happened?

When Rick Kriseman became Mayor, there was a significant shift in the City's approach to the arts and the arts community. Kriseman wanted to move from a subsidized arts community to a sustainable arts community.

To understand what is going on here you need to read my series of Posts with Wayne Atherholt from May of 2015.

Millet and Stackhouse make the point that they did not get enough help from the City staff on legal, right of way and other non-artistic issues. That statement is probably true, but unknown is how and when they sought out help from the City.

My guess is they were hoping to get the public works support free from the City and hang on to as much of the $2.3 million as possible.

With $2.3 million to develop the project, it would have been wise to seek out some help from public work's professionals to resolve common issues in right of way construction.

Turning over what is as much a public works project, building bus shelters in the right of way, totally to the artists charged with making them "artful" is not a very good plan.

The problem is revealed in two quotes from the Frago Article first, regarding Millet/Stackhouse: "They just weren't able to provide what we normally get from those types of projects," said Atherholt, he added, we didn't get what we needed. City officials decided that it needs a team that has more expertise in public works and engineering. Artists aren't usually in charge of these types of projects."

Most telling is another quote from Atherholt, "The city remains excited about the project, which may or may not involve multiple artists."

Look for the City to divide the Art in Transit Project up into a series of bids or one bid with a project manager requiring multiple artists and make an opportunity for numerous local artists to share a piece of the $2.3 Million dollar pie or what is left of it after the City settles with Millet/Stackhouse.

This approach will put needed revenue into the St. Pete arts community, a primary Kriseman goal, and the public will actually get something in return.

Will Art in Transit be as "artsy" as would have been with Millet/Stackhouse? Probably not.

However, Millet/Stackhouse could come right back and bid on a part of the project.

For now, don't pay too much attention to the balling and whining of the top end of the St. Pete arts community. Kriseman, Atherholt and the city team are taking the right approach.

E-mail Doc at mail to: 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: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Political Media Class

The political media class is no longer journalists they are arbitrators deciding who qualifies and for whom you should or should not vote.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

We have heard a lot about the "political class" in this presidential election cycle but not to be over looked is the "political media class."

From the very beginning of Trump's and Sander's campaign the mainstream political media pundits, reporters, anchors, news directors and media outlets have for the most part decried their candidacies.

At first, they treated both of them as a joke, then as political anomalies then as a threat.

The political media class is tied to political insiders as stink is to a skunk. Most of these people make their living from their access to and media coverage of the political class.

What I find so disturbing about all of this is the political media class really believes they know what is best for this country. From NPR to Fox and CNN they are trying desperately to manipulate this presidential race.

A good example is this  NEWSMAX piece.  Dick Morris: Rubio, Fox News Big Losers From New Hampshire.

It is not only how they cover candidates, or what the pundits actually say but it is how the political overage is provided and structured.

Trump figured out the media early on and has manipulated them in a truly magnificent way.

The media is seething about it, attacking Trump on all sides but afraid to drop their coverage of him for fear of losing out to other media outlets in the competitive ratings race.

Several, such as NPR and Fox have scaled back their news coverage of Trump but it has had little effect.

The point of all of this is it is difficult to get a real neutral view of any candidate from social media or any of the networks especially the cable networks.

The political media class is no longer journalists reporting but they are arbitrators deciding who qualifies and for whom you should or should not vote.

The very foundation of this country is based on the fact you do not have to be part of a political class to be elected to govern at any level. The people not the political media class decide who will be elected to public offices.

I am fed up with the political media class crying about Trump, worrying about Sanders and pushing Marco Rubio in my face every time I change channels.

Whether you are watching broadcast news, cable news or reading social media just remember every one of these outlets, reporters, pundits and commentators, including me, have a personal agenda.

As a voter, you are smart enough to see through all of this. Pick out the person you truly believe in and vote for them. It is just that simple.

E-mail Doc at mail to: 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: Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Taking the temperature of the Rays stadium search

Tampa and Rays did not waste any time setting up the first meeting.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin

The stadium search deal between the Rays and the City of St. Petersburg is done. In a 5-3 vote, City Council approved the latest Kriseman plans to let the Rays look in Pinellas and Hillsborough County for a new stadium site.

The Tampa Bay Times was all aglow in their Editorial: Rays deal a positive step forward for city, region.

It was time to get this issue resolved, and it was interesting that Pinellas County was not ready to jump into the fray and offer to get with the Rays to look at possible sites on this side of the bay. Kind of makes you wonder if the whole baseball thing in Pinellas County is really up to the City of St. Pete.

Tampa was ready and waiting while St. Pete plans to do a series of "studies" to see what is right for the Trop site.

There was a flurry of activity over in Hillsborough County with the Rays calling Tampa, Tampa calling the Rays and the baseball "group" in Tampa ready to meet before the ink was dry on the St. Pete/Rays deal.

Tampa and Rays did not waste any time setting up the first meeting.

Despite Sternberg's impassioned comments in St. Pete City Council about the Bay area and St. Pete, Major League Baseball and the owners want the Rays out of St. Petersburg.

So how do you tell what is really going on.

The Raysometer may tell the story.

In the past, the Rays have cited April and the home opener as the cut off for discussions and negotiations with the City of St. Pete about the Stadium and pretty much anything else. The rational has always been we need to focus on "the game."

If the Rays follow the history and pretty much put negotiations with Hillsborough/Tampa on hold, then it is a pretty safe bet stadium negotiation will follow a rational process.

However, if the red line on the Raysometer continues into the baseball season with negotiations at even a mild pace, then the rules for the Rays Second Season have changed. People over on the Pinellas County side of the Howard Franklin better get it in gear fast if they want to keep the Rays on this side of the bridge.

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Contributor: Carly Fiorina for President, Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Friends of the Investigator and More

Tampa Bay Times columnists Sue Carlton wrote on February 2nd a Times article about who was brought into the Go Hillsborough law enforcement investigation:
Bobby O'Neill, once the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida, was brought in by the Sheriff's Office as a consultant in its investigation — a smart move in a case that involves both public trust and actual fact.
This was just after she wrote this on January 26:
Word is that nothing criminal was found in that soon-to-go-public investigation by the Sheriff's Office regarding Go Hillsborough. Expect to see some squirm-worthy moments for elected officials anyway.
Who told Carlton there was "nothing"? Why would she make such a blanket statement without stating why she said it or who told her? What narrative is Carlton attempting to create?

Back in 2013, Carlton's article about O'Neill resigning his position as US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida included this
Mayor Buckhorn considers O'Neill a good friend; they have shared more than a Guinness or two
O'Neill was investigating Buckhorn who was a participant in the entire Go Hillsborough/Parsons Brinckerhoff/Beth Leytham debacle. That set off some curiosity about Bobby O'Neill and we used the Google to find some interesting information.

Apparently there was a brouhaha that occurred in 2010 amongst the 3 finalists for the position of US Attorney for the Middle District. Criticisms of each of the finalists were reported in this article Public Criticism Delays Nomination in Middle District of Florida. We certainly do not know whether any of the claims were true but criticisms of O'Neill included an accusation of an extramarital affair and his ownership of a pub, Four Green Fields, that raised money for the Irish Republican Army political leader Gerry Adams.

We now know that O'Neill co-owns a popular downtown pub, Four Green Fields. Maybe Buckhorn is a regular there where he shares more than a Guinness or two with O'Neill.

Commissioner Hagan has been pursuing his new baseball stadium for years and just recently again proposed using a TIF (tax-increment financing which is taxpayer monies) to help pay for it. That's not a new idea of his since according to this June 2011 Times article

The approach is called tax-increment financing, and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan put it center-stage this week as an idea to help the Tampa Bay Rays make a new home somewhere in the county.  
Monday, Buckhorn had drinks at a downtown bar with Hagan and Beth Leytham, a public relations consultant who is friends with both, and the three discussed the idea.
Maybe they were all having a Guinness or two at O'Neill's pub…. (It would be nice if Hagan spent as much time prioritizing our current budget to fund our roads and transportation as he has for the last 5 years pursuing taxpayer funds for a new baseball stadium).

To digress a moment - Buckhorn filed for reelection September 12, 2014, coincidentally at the same time the County was handing Parsons Brinckerhoff their no bid contract to do public engagement with their "communication team of one Beth Leytham in tow". According to this Times report 
In preparing for this campaign, Buckhorn assembled the same team of political operatives he has worked with in the past, some for 25 years: pollster Keith Frederick, direct-mail specialist Jon Coley, television consultant Dane Strother, former aide Siobhan Harley and Tampa public relations consultant Beth Leytham. He sent out his first fundraising email a few hours after filing his paperwork. (emphasis mine)
Buckhorn's Pollster Keith Frederick is the same pollster Leytham engaged, at taxpayer expense, to do polling for Go Hillsborough.

Reviewing Buckhorn's campaign filings at the Supervisor of Elections website, we could not find any expenditure to Leytham or any in-kind donation given by Leytham for the campaign work she did for Buckhorn. How can that be? Is that legal? Shouldn't at least an in-kind donation have been reported for her services and advice?

We know anyone can contribute to any candidate but it is always interesting to see who does. Gleaned from Buckhorn's campaign filings was Sheriff Gee contributed $100 to Buckhorn's campaign on 9/25/2014 right after he filed. Colleen Chappell contributed a total of $1000 individually and her ad agency Chappell-Roberts contributed $1000 to Buckhorn's campaign, again at the same time in 2014 the Parsons/Leytham team was starting the campaign. 

Leytham, who was Parsons subcontractor, brought Chappell-Roberts into the Go Hillsborough effort as a subcontractor of her. Chappell-Roberts registered the website and apparently was managing the website. We note that recently the domain name was transferred to the County who redirected the domain name to the County's Transportation and Economic Development website where there is an archived view of the original campaign website.

We previously posted here about following the circular money trail.

These cozy relationships were feeding off a $1.35 million taxpayer funded Parsons contract for marketing and campaign work to push a sales tax hike referendum that never went through any transparent bid or RFP. To our knowledge, the County never even provided a requirements document which is project management 101.

Back to O'Neill. When he was sworn in according to this post in 2010 he stated
“We have to provide equal justice under the law for everyone,” O’Neill said, according to the Tribune. “That’s the key. That’s what we will strive to do.”
According to this Times article, O'Neill resigned as US Attorney in 2013
O'Neill, 55, a veteran crusader against public corruption who oversees federal prosecutions in a 35-county swath of Florida, will join a risk management company led by former FBI director Louis J. Freeh. 
His tenure in the Middle District dates to 1993 and includes the fall of Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White and Tampa housing chief Steve LaBrake.
At O'Neill's send off party when he resigned as US Attorney in 2013, the Times reported
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said O'Neill was among a handful of true friends, one she calls even now for advice, and — you know this is coming — he's the only man she knows who looks good in a mullet. 
"I love you so much," Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee told O'Neill. "You're such a good friend."
In that same article the Times reported
He [O'Neill] emphasized the importance of knowing when to wield justice. "Some people," he said, "need to be buried under the courthouse, taken away from society and kept there forever."

Others make mistakes.
O'Neill resigned as director of the parent company of the pub, DPI days after he was sworn in as US Attorney in 2010 but it appears he is still a co-owner of the Four Green Fields Pub.

According to this Tribune article last June, O'Neill's pub was one picked by a "special panel" of the Airport Authority. Interesting that three restaurants picked are owned by Richard Gonzmart (Ulele, Goody Goody and Columbia Restaurants). Sorry no Outback or Lee Roy Selmon's got picked.

There were four protests of bid rigging in the bid process that apparently was blessed by TIA's high-salaried CEO Joe Lopano and praised by Commissioner Victor Crist who thought that when you get too big (aka become very successful) you lose your local identity.

A few months after the airport concession award, DPI sold it's 4 adjacent properties to the St. John's Episcopal Church. The properties combined market value, according to the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, at the time of the sale was $911K and they sold all the properties in September 2015 for $3.75 million.

Property          Current HCPA Market Value

According to this Tribune article about the sale of the property
St. John’s Episcopal Church, eager to secure expansion prospects for its school, has bought the property that includes the iconic Irish pub Four Green Fields at 205 W. Platt St., according to a letter emailed to the church community Thursday.

Colin Breen, a co-owner of the bar, confirmed the sale. “We have been having conversations over the years about it,” Breen said. “The church was concerned about being boxed in, so we came to an agreement. They now control the land while we stay as a tenant. It’s business as usual.”
DPI took out a 2nd mortgage in August 2015 from Carlyle Investment for $800K after Four Green Fields was awarded their airport concession in June and a month before they sold their current property to St Johns. The outstanding balance on the 1st mortgage was $1.5M. Perhaps the 2nd mortgage was taken out to provide capital for their new location soon coming to the airport.

Let's connect some dots.

Sue Carlton, Times columnist, is married to Times editorial writer John Hill as Creative Loafing reported here.

John Hill is friends with Beth Leytham, who is at the center of the Go Hillsborough investigation. Hill has refused to disclose their close relationship. And Leytham is not shy about leveraging her relationships to get positive editorial spin.

Leytham is very close associate of Mayor Buckhorn and Commissioner Hagan who were voting members of the Policy Leadership Group that helped hand Leytham hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars via the Parsons Brinckerhoff no bid contract. This also occurred while Leytham was Buckhorn's campaign consultant.

Buckhorn, Hagan and Leytham are all close associates and are all part of the Go Hillsborough debacle.

Leytham is Buckhorn's campaign PR consultant but there is no campaign expenditure or in-kind donation reflected in Buckhorn's campaign filings for her work.

Buckhorn is good friends with O'Neill.

O'Neill is co-owner of a restaurant that got an airport concession awarded by the Airport Authority Board that Commissioner Crist sits on.

O'Neill is good friends with Sheriff Gee.

Sheriff Gee contributed to Buckhorn's campaign.

Sue Carlton writes Times articles first insinuating nothing will come from the investigation and then writes that former US Attorney for the Middle District of Florida O'Neill was brought into the investigation.

It's apparent these folks travel in the same circles and therefore are friends. However, there should be no skepticism or lingering questions regarding the investigation outcome.

With no disrespect to HCSO, our question is -  shouldn't an investigation be done by those totally independent of anyone involved in the investigation or who is being investigated?  Should friends be investigating friends? 

There are still questions that Merrill and the commissioners should answer as to why Merrill, over a weekend with no transparency or any public input from the county commissioners, asked the Sheriff to investigate and not FDLE. Remember it was Merrill and Leytham who took the Go Hillsborough campaign totally rogue last August when, as we posted here, they unilaterally with no governing approval decided to bring back the full 1% sales tax hike.

We await the completion of the law enforcement investigation and do not know the extent of it, how broad or how narrow it's focus. However, only a forensic investigation that gets all the text messages from the cell phone providers, gets all the emails and follows the money trail for where every dime of the $1.35 million went, will we ever know the truth.

Regardless of the result of the law enforcement investigation something is not right down at County Center. It's not all just "mistakes".

From the beginning of the Go Hillsborough debacle, we have stated that with all these close, cozy and friendly relationships, some of them wearing numerous hats, the taxpayers must be protected.

But will they?

Update: Looking at the Supervisor of Elections website, we also found:
In June 2010 O'Neill's pub, Four Green Fields, donated $500 (the maximum at that time) to Mayor Buckhorn's campaign.
Go Hillsborough Investigator O'Neill's pub donated to Buckhorn

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Kriseman/Tomalin plan for South St. Pete approved

There are people in St. Pete, who make a lot of money from the area defined by the TIF.

St. Petersburg, FL
Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb PhD
Author: In Search of Robin
Thursday's St. Pete City Council meeting consideration of the South St. Pete CRA and TIF and the plan to implement them was a high-water mark in the City's long running struggle with south St. Pete. Mayor Rick Kriseman and his team deserve a lot of credit for getting the City to this point.

Not all went smoothly as the President of the local NAACP president spoke against the plan.

You can get a good sense of the plan and the issues in these two articles by Tampa Bay Times writer Charlie Frago:

After an intense debate and agreement to modify, the plan slightly by making more of the funds available for workforce training City Council adopted the plan unanimously.

During the discussion on a number of occasions, speakers referred to the plan as a multi generational change. Current thinking puts a generation at 20 to 25 years.

The plan looks solid, if it works, as it should it would be self-funding through the life of the TIF.

Assuming it takes a generation and a half to affect serious change that is over 30 years. What does the City do in the meantime?

There are serious questions.

Unrest and discontent run deep in South St. Pete.

In the midst of the discussion, the meeting was interrupted by a protest from the UHURUs

See my Post from one year ago The Two Faces off South St. Pete.

Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch commented that the plan was a good strong foundation and now "it is time to build the house."

If you buy into the general fact, a generation is 20 years, then the current generation is probably the easiest group to get to with the plan's elements.

Can the plan provide training and create jobs for this group more attractive than drug dealing and more acceptable than having babies and living on ADC, food stamps and Welfare programs?

Moreover, not to be overlooked is a group of people who will not want these programs to succeed.

Poverty is big business.

There are people in St. Pete, who make a lot of money from the area defined by the TIF.

The easy ones to pick out are the drug dealers, pimps, gang leaders and the crime lords, but equally egregious are the slumlords, absentee property owners, payday loan operations, social service groups and even some churches that would exploit the very programs meant to break the circle of poverty.

The subset of our society that lives off south St. Pete's poverty is neither small nor powerless.

Plans that plant trees, pave streets and put up streetlights do not bother them much, but plans like Mayor Kriseman's strike at heart of their enterprises.

Lisa Wheeler-Brown said it best when speaking about accountability, "So that people who have their own agenda will not be able to pocket what is really the community's. I have lived here my whole life, and it is no secret what I'm saying."

Ken Welch is right we have the foundation now let's build the house. Everyone in St. Petersburg has a stake in seeing things improve in south St. Pete. The resistance will be subtle at first, perhaps like the comments from the NAACP President, and stronger as the programs begin to roll out and become successful.

Mayor Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Tomalin and the team need to be diligent in their implementation of this plan and not afraid to call out those who would pervert the process.

This plan is a long road. Those starting it will not be the ones that finish it. It is up to the people to stay the course.

E-mail Doc at mail to: 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: Carly Fiorina for President, Bob Gualtieri for Pinellas County Sheriff