Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hillsborough MPO Needs New Leadership

When the Chair of a powerful governing board uses their position to further their own  agenda, it is time for a leadership change.

Under Commissioner Les Miller Chairmanship of the Hillsborough County MPO, the MPO continues to offer one monolithic group of people opportunities no one else is offered. That is wrong.
Commissioner Les Miller is Chair of Hillsborough MPO
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO's) are federally mandated transportation policy making organizations made up of representatives from local government and governmental transportation authorities. They are a critical and powerful organization because all Federal funding for transportation projects and programs are channeled through the MPO planning process. MPO's are tasked with establishing and managing a fair and impartial setting for effective decision making. 

According to our Hillsborough MPO's own website (emphasis mine):
The Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is a transportation policy-making board comprised of representatives from local governments and transportation agencies. According to federal and state laws, the Hillsborough County MPO is responsible for establishing a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive transportation planning process for Hillsborough County.
Our local MPO does planning for Hillsborough County, not just the city of Tampa or the urban core. The MPO Board must consider the entire county in its planning and decision making process.

It has become obvious that Miller is playing his politics with Hillsborough's MPO.

He was MPO Chair last June 2016 during the MPO public hearing at that time. The Eye reported then that Miller voted against TBX (no tax hike required) while he supported the Go Hillsborough sales tax hike to fund costly rail/transit boondoggles. Miller got a Democrat challenger last year, StopTBXer Kimberly Overman, until she conveniently withdrew on June 23rd, the day after Miller voted no on TBX at the public hearing.

As we posted in May, it was Commissioner Miller who used his position as Chair of the MPO to offer only transit advocates an opportunity to attend FDOT's peer exchange in St. Louis. All but one of his six Hillsborough County invitees were from Miller's district and the city of Tampa, including four StopTBXers. 

The city of Tampa's population is only 27% of the county and Miller's district is much smaller than that. We are left assuming Miller does not think any others from a county of 1.3 million and 1100 square miles is worthy of such opportunity. We found no public vote or agreement by the members of the MPO Board for who Miller himself selected to participate in this unique opportunity.

We recently posted here that Joshua Frank, a USF masters student in architecture (not an engineer or a transportation expert) was offered an opportunity to present to the MPO. He, like Kimberly Overman, are part of the "tear down the interstates" extremists crowd. Frank was offered an opportunity to present his vision of tearing down I-275 from downtown to Bearss (almost 10 miles of a heavily used major interstate) at the August 1 MPO Board meeting. 

It was ironic that MPO Chair Les Miller was absent at the meeting. But MPO Executive Director Beth Alden told the Eye it was Miller who invited Frank and offered him 10 minutes. Frank took much longer than 10 minutes but no one moderated his time. 

Again we could find no public vote or agreement by the members of the full MPO Board to invite Frank - just Miller again making his own unilateral decisions. 

We could find no record of the MPO Board itself voting to solicit anyone from the public to present a lengthy presentation of "their" vision opinion. Is this a new precedent the MPO has set? Then those with differing visions than Frank and/or believe Frank's presentation left out critical information should be able present their vision too.

The federally funded MPO cannot be used to advance the agenda of a single board member, especially the Chair. As stated above, the federally funded MPO must govern in a fair and impartial way. It cannot be used as a platform to advance the Chair's political agenda, one person's vision or one group's opinion.

In addition, in January of this year, Miller was selected Chair of HART, our local transit agency. The same person should not be Chair of multiple transportation governing boards in Hillsborough County. That has potential for conflicts of interest, especially since HART is dealing with declining transit ridership and budgetary issues and the MPO is dealing with the overall contentious transportation issue in Hillsborough County.

According to the latest Bylaws of Hillsborough MPOtenure of the Chair and Vice-Chair is for 1 year or until a successor is elected but any officer may be removed by a majority of the total members. 

Miller has been MPO Chair for almost three years since January 2015. That is long enough, not withstanding that Miller is now also Chair of HART.

Hillsborough County has endured enough shenanigans regarding its transportation issue. Transportation remains contentious in Hillsborough County. Miller's recent actions add to that contentiousness. Therefore, it is time for someone else to take over as MPO Chair.

The Hillsborough MPO will soon begin updating their federally mandated Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). The MPO cannot be used to offer opportunities to one group of people not offered to others in a large and very diverse county or the MPO will lose their credibility of fairness.

Hillsborough MPO needs new leadership.

Time for the MPO Board to select a new Chair NOW.

12 comments:

  1. Charlotte GreenbargAugust 30, 2017 at 1:57 PM

    Well said! Definite need for major changes in MPO.

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  2. The word that describes Miller's abusive control is called despotism.

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  3. It is very easy to spin this to cast aspersions on commissioner Miller's decisions. The fact is commissioner Miller's District the district most impacted by the tbx project and the neighborhoods the ones most adversely affected regardless of what percentage of the County's population that District may represent. From West Tampa along I-275 to I-4 out to 50th Street that is within District 3 of the County Commission; from the I-275 interchange northward beyond city limits is also within District.
    I to consider challenging commissioner Miller in the the primary last year but chose not to because was going to enter the race and in a three-way race commissioner Miller would have prevailed. And my reason for even considering it was because commissioner Miller perceived support for TBX at no point was/is in the best interest of the residents of District 3.
    When there are members of the MPO who don't even understand their role and believe their role is to simply rubber-stamp the decisions of the Florida Department of Transportation, when half of the MPO is not even directly accountable to the citizens of this County by virtue of not being in elected positions, and most of the rest did not represent areas adversely impacted by the tbx Proposal, it seems very fitting and appropriate that commissioner Miller would want to make sure that the MPO had other alternative viewpoints to consider. I for one do not support the idea of ripping out 275 north of The Interchange and replacing it with a Boulevard. On the other hand I do believe that we should have a light rail system built down the middle of the interstate. Like it or not our development, growth or sprawl has grown up around that Interstate for the last 60 years where it currently runs. Therefore I believe it is the most efficient and cost-effective spine for developing a light rail system. And some people think that ideas extreme.
    I live within District 3 and my business is located within District 3 and I support the fact that commissioner Miller has at least demonstrated a willingness to listen to his constituency.

    Rick Fifer

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  4. Sharon, is Sandy Murman paying you by the word? Had you been in St.Louis, you would have seen a city that has embraced transit and a state where toll roads are not allowed. TBX is dead. Transit will happen in Tampa. My neighborhood will not be destroyed for your minimal convenience.

    Rick Fernandez
    Tampa Heights

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    1. For a city you say has "embraced" transit, St. Louis MetroLInk ridership has declined 20% over the last 3 years. This follows the national trend of declining transit ridership but MetroLink has also been plagued with crime. St. Louis transit ridership in 2015 was 8.6 percent lower than it was in 2000. "St. Louis MetroLink system has soaked up $3 billion from the public purse through capital outlays and operating subsidies. What do we have to show for it? Not much. MetroLink carries less than one-half of one percent of metro area commuters. Total bus and rail ridership in the St. Louis area is lower today than bus ridership alone was in 1991, three years before the MetroLink opened." https://spectator.org/heres-a-money-saving-idea-for-st-louis/ Missouri was looking at converting I-70 to a toll road aka tolling existing lanes which I also disagree with - different from adding additional capacity as managed lanes. Missouri has a huge transportation funding issue and with declining transit, more people are driving - new revenues then will have to come from somewhere. It is not a pretty budget picture in Missouri. The Missouri 2017 legislative session included in the transportation budget bill for the fiscal year 7/1/2017 thru 6/30/2018, HB 4, that no state funds could be used for any costs associated w/tolling interstates. That prohibition was for one fiscal year, there was no legislation passed to ban forever tolling, though there is an effort to put a referendum on the ballot next year but I don't believe it has made the ballot to date. Missouri is not a growth state like FL and they have budget issues so it will be interesting to see where they get the funding to not only maintain but improve their roads and highways - the budget was cut $250 million by the Governor. due to revenues being lowered than expected. Taking a funding option off the table in one budget cycle may not mean it is off the table in the future or forever or they may look at some type of P3 solution.

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  5. Don't forget to bill Sandy Murman ...

    Rick Fernandez
    Tampa Heights

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    1. Come on Rick you are a lawyer, you certainly understand false accusations. False accusations are an admission you have nothing to argue.

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  6. On the issue if declining transit ridership: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/economic-intelligence/articles/2017-05-17/how-can-we-reverse-declining-public-transit-ridership

    Rick Fernandez

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    1. "When rail lines are built they often cater to wealthier, whiter residents. When bus lines are cut they usually affect those who disproportionately depend on the service." Thanks for making our point - transit should be optimized around buses which are more flexible, more cost-effective and quicker to optimize - especially in dispersed areas like Tampa Bay. Costly rail lines going after so-called "choice" riders cannibalize bus service needed by transit dependent.

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  7. Sharon: This is fun. Can do it all day.

    1. Where were you when Les Miller was voting at the MPO to support TBX. His thinking has evolved. You should try it.

    2. My Sandy Murman reference was not an accusation ... it was sarcasm. You should, however, look into doing some ghost writing for her.

    3. I'm sorry you missed out on the St. Louis trip. The BBQ was excellent and we took a nice bus tour of the city. Riding their metrolink to the airport was also instructive. That said, how did it become Miller's responsibility to invite you? FDOT outlined the invite list/categories. Miller nominated neighborhood representatives from his district. Last I checked, you live in Lutz and you surely do not represent the interests of the TBX impacted neighborhoods. If you have a bone to pick, it's with Paul Steinman. Think he's in North Carolina now.

    4. No supporter of #groperdon or teabagger should ever, ever ... EVER ... write or speak these words: "False accusations are an admission you have nothing to argue". #birtherism #deathpanels etc.

    5. Josh Frank is an intelligent young man with some great ideas. His bifurcation to boulevard presentation is eye opening and forward thinking. The seed for his master's thesis came from the input of community members during the TBX neighborhood engagement meetings. While I understand you'd like to see Tampa Heights, Seminole Heights and Ybor paved over to shorten your commute by (maybe) 5 - 10 minutes, we in the urban core object to that 20th Century approach. You might consider spending more time in Lutz or taking I75.

    6. I agree we need change on the MPO ... But Les Miller isn't the problem ...

    Rick Fernandez

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    1. As a lawyer, name calling is how you debate this issue? FDOT provided the opportunity to the MPO Chairs but did not provide criteria for who to invite/. As a lawyer, if you have such evidence that FDOT provided specific criteria for who to invite, please provide it. I recall FDOT was asked in a public forum that very question and they answered they did not set any criteria because they wanted to be totally neutral but sent the opportunity invite to the MPO chairs. If you have evidence that the entire MPO board voted or agreed or even weighed in on who was invited, then provide the evidence.

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