Tuesday, February 7, 2017

HART Amends MOU with PSTA Because Skepticism is Warranted

Yesterday the HART Board (Hillsborough's local transit agency) took up a Memorandum of Understanding agreement with PSTA (Pinellas's local transit agency) that is a legally binding umbrella contract for the agencies to pursue collaboration opportunities.

HART already collaborates so this MOU is not necessary. Best practices with the most protections for taxpayers and HART itself would be for each area of collaboration to be transparently and separately contractually addressed like they have done in the past.

We're all for collaborating when it is mutually beneficial. However, PSTA has been fiscally mismanaged for years and Brad Miller was forced to return $350K of federal transit security funds PSTA misused for Greenlight Pinellas advertising in 2014. HART should always take caution when dealing with PSTA.

The HART Board did decide to move forward with the MOU but it was only after much Board discussion. After a show of opposition from Board members John Melendez, Karen Jaroch and Commissioner Stacy White, the Board did add language recommended by Commissioner Murman to protect Hillsborough County taxpayers and HART's own sovereignty. As SaintPetersblog reported yesterday,
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate and collaborate with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), but only after adding additional language clarifying that it is not a move towards a potential merger or a regional sales tax increase.
That is good. Adding such language is appreciated because of the current push for regional decision making and push for regional sales tax funding. And that big regionalism push is coming mostly out of Pinellas County, PSTA, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, and their echo chamber the Tampa Bay Times.

Why is there so much skepticism about the HART-PSTA MOU? 

Because it immediately sprung up after Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long presented her "Regional Council of Governments" proposal to HART last October. 

Because Long's proposal came just as the latest $1.5 million taxpayer funded campaign for the Regional Premium Transit PLAN (a post for another day) had just begun.

But most of all we remember where the Genesis for the merger of HART and PSTA began.

It goes back to the December 2012 joint HART/PSTA meeting (video clip below). 

At that 2012 meeting Senator Latvala states a rail between Pinellas and Hillsborough needs a regional operating authority. Latvala states that he would help with legislation to merge HART and PSTA and create this regional entity via some type of Inter-local agreement that avoids the voters and a referendum.

Why the skepticism? Because at PSTA's Executive Committee meeting held on January 6, 2017, CEO Brad Miller (about 2:00 in video of the meeting) outlines his timeline. PSTA approves the MOU on 1/25, HART approves it on 2/6, and then he and HART CEO Katherine Eagan and their lobbyist(s) go to Tallahassee immediately on 2/7 to jointly present it to our legislators [to ask for funding to implement Long's regional proposal].

Guess what? Brad Miller high tailed it to Tallahassee today, with MOU in hand, as reported by SaintPetersblog.
The MOU is on the checklist for Miller and four PSTA board members – Samantha Fenger, Patti Johnson, Brian Scott, and Joe Barkley – to discuss with legislators today.
What version did Miller take? Did he take the version PSTA approved on 1/25 or the latest version with the changes added yesterday by HART that HART approved? Has PSTA even approved the latest version?  

This kind of disjointedness and disconnect happens when as Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long stated the "timeline is more important than the document".

This is not delusional, this is reality. 

Just look at the chart below presented by Commissioner Janet Long at the January 13 PSTA workshop. Who could not be skeptical of the real intentions of the HART-PSTA MOU and why PSTA and Pinellas County keep pushing their regionalism and merger agenda on Hillsborough County?
Chart from Pinellas Commissioner Janet Long's
Regional Vision she presented at January 13 PSTA workshop
So it is good that the HART Board took protective action yesterday and kudos to them for doing so.

Because the taxpayers must always be protected.

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