Wednesday, September 11, 2019

AFT Spokesperson/Vinik Employee Christina Barker Cited in FL Senate Brief

As reported, a Circuit Court Judge threw out major portions of All for Transportation's transit tax, including their mandated spending allocations, as illegal and unlawful. The judge, who is elected and will probably run again, split the baby and left the tax itself still standing.

Numerous appeals have been filed to the Florida Supreme Court. The appeals include those filed by All for Transportation according to this Times article.

Since the legal appeals were filed, the Florida House and Florida Senate have filed amicus curiae briefs with the Florida Supreme Court requesting the Court to strike the entire All for Transportation charter amendment including the tax.

The Florida House and Senate amicus curiae briefs can be found here and here.

The Senate brief states they are joining the brief filed by the House and also states (we included link to Times article referenced):
On September 4, 2019 the Tampa Bay Times published an article that was entitled Hillsborough's transportation tax has a new opponent: the Florida House.  
The article included the following quote from the organizer for All for Transportation, Christina Barker, the sponsor of the referendum at issue in this case: “Hillsborough County voters exercised a right that the Florida Legislature gave them. The fact that this is being walked back now is incredibly disappointing.”

The Senate wishes to appear in this case as an additional amicus curiae and join in the House brief in order to clarify that both Chambers of the Legislature support the House’s position stated therein. The Legislature is united in seeking a proper interpretation and enforcement of section 212.055, Florida Statutes, and in opposing an expansion of the severability doctrine to include local exercises of legislatively delegated non-ad valorem taxation authority.

The Senate agrees with and supports the House position, which respects and protects the voters. Unlawful referendums that do not follow the clear procedures laid out by statute should not be judicially repaired by the trial court. The result reached by the trial court ignores the premise upon which voters may have supported the referendum, namely how the transportation tax would be administered.

So who is Christina Barker who was specifically cited in the amicus curiae brief filed by the Florida Senate? 

Let's find out as we continue our Sunlight series about those associated with All for Transportation (AFT) and their legally flawed $16 Billion transit tax.

We previously posted here and here how transit advocate Kevin Thurman crafted and shopped a transit tax strategy to inside power players, including those at Tampa International Airport.

Christina Barker
In a text message from Kevin Thurman to Janet Scherberger (Joe Lopano's VP of Communications at Tampa International Airport) dated April 18, 2018, Thurman told Janet Scherberger :

"Between you and me: Christina Barker has been involved from day one."

According to Barker's LinkedIn, she previously worked for transit lobbyist organization Tampa Bay Partnership. Tampa Bay Partnership donated $250K to All for Transportation, including $150K of initial seed money to support AFT's tax hike petition drive. 

The Tampa Bay Partnership has been the largest supporter of rail tax hikes in Tampa Bay.

Barker, a transit advocate, was the Finance Director for the failed Greenlight Pinellas rail tax boondoggle in 2014 while she worked for the Tampa Bay Partnership. 

In December 2014 after Greenlight Pinellas had failed, Barker went to work for Mayor Buckhorn in a position titled "Special Assistant to the Mayor ". We do not know what that job was actually for because Barker's LinkedIn provides nothing about what her accomplishments were or what she did during her time as "Special Assistant to the Mayor".

Barker was working for Mayor Buckhorn at the same time Ali Glisson was Buckhorn's Public Affairs Director. Glisson went to work for Jeff Vinik's Strategic Property Partners in 2015. As we posted here, Glisson is married to transit advocate Kevin Thurman who started the AFT transit tax citizen petition initiative.

The April text message referenced above confirms Barker was helping Thurman create the All for Transportation transit tax hike charter amendment at the same time she was working for Mayor Buckhorn.

We can reasonably assume the "Special Assistant to the Mayor" kept Mayor Buckhorn, a long time rail tax advocate, fully informed of the transit tax being orchestrated behind closed doors.

Barker was conveniently hired by Jeff Vinik on June 1, 2018, just 2 weeks before All for Transportation launched their transit tax hike petition drive on June 14th. Barker went from "Special Assistant to the Mayor, to a vice president of community partnerships and policy for the Vinik Family Office.

The Vinik Family Office is a member of the Tampa Bay Partnership. About 20 donors directly associated with Vinik and the Tampa Bay Partnership donated at least 60% of the $4 million that was donated to AFT.

Vinik also seeded AFT $150K to support the petition drive and became AFT's largest donor, donating over $800K from his various legal entities to the AFT PAC.

And Barker became an AFT public spokesperson.

With a masters degree in political campaigning, Barker became Vinik's personal campaign director and community organizer for the AFT transit tax he was heavily funding. Often a person who donates big money to a campaign gets a big say in the campaign.

Barker was invited to participate on a "transportation" panel hosted by the Tampa Bay Business Journal a week before the election. Barker, who is not a transportation expert, admitted:
Our story is one of a few people who got together. We were writing a charter
amendment over drinks. We shopped that charter amendment around.
There is great risk with writing a $16 Billion transit tax and 30 years of spending mandates by a few people over drinks…. and never legally vetting it.

Commissioner Stacy White filed his initial lawsuit on December 4, 2018 challenging the legality of the AFT's transit tax charter amendment referendum. White's lawsuit was not filed against All for Transportation but against the county who placed the flawed transit tax on the ballot and other governmental entities receiving and distributing the tax proceeds.

On December 11, 2018, a week after Commissioner Stacy White filed his lawsuit challenging the AFT transit tax, Barker was added as an Officer of AFT's affiliated nonprofit Keep Hillsborough Moving, Inc.

With Barker as an Officer of Keep Hillsborough Moving, Vinik has a direct connection into running All for Transportation with no transparency. Nonprofits are not required to disclose their donors and expenditures.

The last disclosed donation made to AFT according to AFT's campaign filings (found on the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections website) was on December 18, 2018. That was a donation of $85K from Jeff Vinik's private investment firm American Investment Holdings.

The very next day on December 19, 2018, and a week after Barker became an Officer of Keep Hillsborough Moving, Inc., AFT hired high priced big gun lawyers to intervene in White's lawsuit.

With AFT's disregard for transparency, to date they have never disclosed who is paying their expensive legal services and appeals.

Through a Public Records Request, we found that Barker applied for in February, while the AFT transit tax is in litigation, a gubernatorial appointment by a Republican Governor to the regional transit agency TBARTA.

That is almost surreal since Barker recently posted some highly partisan tweets, a post from the Progressive transit advocacy blog Streetsblog that has numerous inaccuracies and conspiratorially blames the Koch Brothers…..and tweets the Times article accusing Florida House of being "Republican meddlers"... 
Tweet from Streetsblog Barker retweeted
(click to enlarge)

Barker Tweet
(click to enlarge)

Just last year the state legislature passed HB1393, an 89 page bill that gave Barker's employer, Jeff Vinik enormous powers in his Water Street Independent Special District. Those powers included eminent domain and powers to impose taxes, fees and assessments.

Do Barker's public accusations against the Florida legislature reflect well on her employer?

The State Legislature has the responsibility for creating the laws, setting the rules and defining the procedures of county charters and the levying of any local sales tax. The State has a vested interest that those laws, rules and procedures are followed.

Local governments do not have any powers inconsistent with State law or the Constitution.

It is not "meddling" for those who create the laws to ensure those laws are followed.

One day the shoe may be on the other foot on an issue that Barker opposes.

And we bet she will want the rule of law to prevail.

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