Thursday, January 12, 2017

Backdoor Attempt to Merge HART PSTA?

As has been reported, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long has proposed creating a Regional Council of Governments that would serve as a decision-making body for transportation and function as the regions consolidated MPO.

As we posted yesterday, the impetus for regional decision making is the new MPO merger dictate pushed through in December by the lame duck Obama Admin. However, there is a good chance this midnight rule will be eliminated by the new Congress under the new Trump Admin.

Part of Long's regionalism proposal is an interlocal agreement between HART and PSTA.

But what is really going on regarding such interlocal agreement?

Go back to the end of 2012, beginning of 2013 when Senator Latvala was demanding the first of his two taxpayer funded studies be done regarding a merger. Note that merging was rejected after both studies.

Here is a video from January 2013 of a presentation being given to Latvala and some others by PSTA CEO Brad Miller. Miller presented how to merge and consolidate HART and PSTA through a backdoor Joint Powers Authority (JPA). This backdoor agreement is a way to get around a voter referendum that is required to merge and create a new legal entity. A direct link to the youtube video is here.

As Miller explains consultants and lawyers (of course) came up with this proposal to go around voters and taxpayers. At 2:11 in the video Miller states that this JPA or some type of interlocal agreement is "the answer" (at least to the consultants, lawyers and Brad Miller) to merging the two agencies without going through a referendum to actually legally merge them.
PSTA CEO recommends JPA or interlocal agreement to merge/consolidate
HART & PSTA without going through a referendum
What this backdoor merger does is leave HART and PSTA as the legal taxing authority to collect the taxes. All the decision making regarding how those revenues are spent would be made by a new merged/consolidated Board. As Miller states, the existing Boards of HART and PSTA would have no powers or become nonexistent which takes away local control. This JPA/interlocal agreement regionalizes all decision making, including how revenues collected in both counties are spent - such as costly shiny new toys like the fiscal disaster called SunRail.

It is apparent why this interlocal agreement between HART and PSTA is being pushed as part of Long's proposal for regional power and decision making regarding transportation. It creates a single, larger pot of money that would be controlled by a new highly politicized Board run by either all electeds or by electeds, cronies and special interests.

Let's connect the dots.

Long first proposed her regional council of governments in October.

As reported in December here
Long would fold PSTA, HART, and other transportation providers such as the Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, ferryboat operations and others under the regional council of government. Certain functions, or entire organizations, could be consolidated within the council of governments concept.
HART, the transit authority in Hillsborough, voted in November to develop a written interlocal agreement with the PSTA that would commit the two to continuous collaboration and coordination for the region’s benefit.
And here
The two [HART and PSTA] would continue collaborating on those items and would research areas that could benefit from joint ventures. That could eventually mean the merger of some departments, Miller said.
HART drafted an interlocal agreement but concerns were raised by some HART Board members (who are citizen appointees not electeds) as reported here.
Among the more problematic proposals for Jaroch, as well as board member Mickey Jacobs, was one that said that “staff will develop a strategic coordination plan to merge operational functions in IT.” Another said that “Staff will identify two departments, including IT, for functional merge in calendar 2017.”
HART CEO Katherine Eagan said that she would work with board members and Smith and have a new draft of the interlocal agreement available for review at the committee’s meeting next month. 
Meanwhile, PSTA officials want to see the agreement go forward.
Of course PSTA, who has been fiscally mismanaged for years wants to consolidate and merge with HART. Their CEO Brad Miller said so back in 2013.

According to this article, Pinellas County Commissioner Long based her regional proposal on SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments) that is a regional decision making Board composed of 18 cities and county government with advisory representatives from numerous other government agencies.

Modeling anything after how any government agency is run in the almost bankrupted state of California is highly suspect.

This is how huge regional entities with deep pockets use taxpayer monies to "sell" their plan. SANDAG created a taxpayer funded campaign to sell a $204 BILLION 35 year plan where 75% of the money spent goes to transit:  How SANDAG Worked The Media On Transportation Plan

Does using taxpayer monies egregiously on taxpayer funded campaigns sound familiar? Go Hillsborough, Greenlight Pinellas….and could a new regional campaign be starting now with the launch of the $1.5 million "Premium Transit Study"…We'll save that for another post.

We cannot forget Brad Miller misused federal transit security funds on the Greenlight Pinellas campaign. Miller had to return the $350,000 to the feds, he still has his job and last year earned praises and a raise just six months after one Board member proposed a vote whether to fire him.

We also cannot forget Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill's ridiculous proposal in 2014 to reconfigure the HART Board into a super sized agency with an expanded mission and governed by all electeds which would totally politicize the agency.

Long's Regional Council of Governments is Merrill's proposal on steroids.

Government entities and agencies can collaborate whenever it is mutually beneficial and agreed upon. Collaboration does not require consolidation and merger creating a bigger and more powerful bureaucracy that controls all the purse strings.

As we posted here, it is time to dump Long's proposal to regionalize transportation decision making.

Watch the video above again of Brad Miller.  No one should be recommending circumventing the taxpayer and the voters to consolidate power and decision making away from them.

Now watch closely the interlocal agreement between HART and PSTA because such backdoor shenanigans must be stopped in its tracks.

1 comment:

  1. Let's connect more dots shall we? Sharon wants HART and PSTA both to be completely privatized. Why should I not be surprised at this post?