Friday, September 7, 2018

State agency hides the ball on Hillsborough transit tax hike, info funneled to friendly media instead

Cross Post with permission from Tom Rask, Tampa Bay Guardian

Yesterday morning, a state agency told the Guardian that they did not have an audit report that was due for delivery to them five days earlier. Yet that same afternoon, the Tampa Bay Times obtained a copy of the report and published an article about it. The Tampa Bay Times editorial board supports the proposed tax hike to add another 1% to the Hillsborough county sales tax to pay for transit.

“OPPAGA has no records responsive to item number 5, ” Janet Tashner, General Counsel for OPPAGA, wrote to the Guardian yesterday morning at 9:15 A.M. in response to our request for the completed audit report. OPPAGA is the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, a state agency statutorily charged with insuring that such required audits are carried out.

The agreement between OPPAGA and the auditor specified that “the Vendor must submit an electronic version of the Final Report” to OPPAGA “no later than September 1.” The date was in bold face in the agreement.

We informed Tashner at 9:40 A.M. yesterday that, based on the agreement, her agency should have the report. We also asked again that she provide the report. Tashner responded to our e-mail but did not address that inconsistency between the agreement and her claim that the didn’t have it yet, nor did she provide the audit report.

The agreement also specifies that “upon receiving written final approval of the Final Report from” OPPAGA, “the Vendor must submit an electronic version of the Final Report to the county.” This was done at 12:56 P.M. yesterday, that time provided by county staff.

The timestamp on the PDF of the audit report that Hillsborough County has now published shows that it was created at 11:08 A.M. yesterday. Our last e-mail from Tashner is time stamped 12:11 P.M

The timeline thus shows that OPPAGA must have received the 198 page final audit report after 12:11 P.M. yesterday, gone over the report, issued “written final approval” to the vendor, who then in turn sent the report to Hillsborough county administrator Mike Merrill and HART Executive director Jeffrey Seward at 12:56 P.M. That’s quite a lot to do in 45 minutes, and all this during lunch hour.

Either that is what happened, or OPPAGA unlawfully withheld the report from the Guardian, while delivering it to county and transit officials in that same hour. Someone within those agencies then funneled the report to friendly media to “explain” it to the peons its readers that same day.

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