In an official filing with the State of Florida, the Hillsborough-based transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay, Inc. (CTB) voluntarily dissolved itself on April 26th. This came 11 days after a Guardian reporter wrote Hillsborough county commissioners with evidence that CTB never filed any federally required tax returns.
Announced Hillsborough County Commission candidate Brian Willis (pictured below) was CTB’s president at the deadlines for 3 out of the 4 tax returns that had to be filed, but never were filed. Willis is a real estate attorney at the Tampa law firm Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick. Willis has offered no comment as to why the returns required by federal law were not filed.
|Brian Willis, candidate for|
County Commission District 6
It was CTB who in January 2014 came up with the name “Go Hillsborough”, which is the name that Hillsborough County chose for its now troubled transportation plan. On April 27th, commissioners declined by 4-3 vote place it on the ballot this November, but may still place it on the ballot at a public hearing on June 9th. Go Hillsborough, if placed on the ballot and approved by voters in November, would mean a hike in the sales tax.
The Tampa Bay Guardian first asked to see CTB’s tax returns on January 19th, 2016. CTB’s Executive Director Kevin Thurman wrote back the same day and said “I have received your request and will provide you with all documents required by law within one week”. Thurman never did.
Three weeks later, after prodding, Thurman (pictured below middle) said that CTB had filed all required tax returns, and claimed to have e-mailed copies of them to the Guardian two weeks earlier. Tax exempt organizations must make their tax returns available for inspection and copying by the public as a condition of their tax exempt status.
|Local transit advocacy group Connect Tampa Bay|
created the brand name Go Hillsborough
CTB was formed with much fanfare in late 2012 by Thurman, current Hillsborough County Commission candidate Brian Willis, Brian Seel (son of Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel) and Brandie Miklus, an urban planner for Jacobs Engineering.
Jacobs Engineering produced the multimillion dollar Alternative Analysis for Pinellas County, the basis for the 2014 Greenlight Pinellas tax hike referendum, which was trounced by voters with 62% voting “NO”. Jacobs is a potential bidder on multi-million dollar Go Hillsborough contracts
|Brandie Miklus working sign in table|
at Go Hillsborough meeting
Questions have dogged CTB since their founding about who funds them. CTB has never opened its books, but Thurman claimed on February 11th that they have “collected few donations” and that they “haven’t collected a donation in two years.”
The Guardian has confirmed through multiple avenues with the IRS, including the below letter from the IRS, that CTB in fact never filed the required federal tax returns.
|IRS letter regarding Connect Tampa Bay's|
Federal 990 tax returns
Thurman, speaking for CTB, was frequently quoted in the now defunct Tampa Tribune. Thurman has been quoted in the Tampa Bay Times six times this year alone. In the Times latest story quoting Thurman just last week, more than 10 weeks after CTB was dissolved, Times reporter Steve Contorno described Thurman as the “executive director of the pro-transit Connect Tampa Bay”.
The Guardian provided the state filing to Contorno via e-mail on the day his article was published online, but the Times has yet to issue a correction.
This is a developing story and we will publish updates as they become available.
Cross posted with permission from the Tampa Bay Guardian