Monday, May 2, 2022

Hillsborough County Using Consent Agenda to Hand Tampa Focused Organizations County Transportation Tax Dollars

At Wednesday's May 4, 2022 Hillsborough County Commission meeting there are 3 Consent Agenda items for the County to hand taxpayer dollars to three so-called public-private "Transportation Management Organizations" (TMO). 

Items on the Consent Agenda allow no discussion because all the items on the Consent Agenda are voted on with just one rubber stamp vote. Consent Agenda items are supposed to be used for routine, non-controversial agenda items. 

This money is flowing right after the commission voted to put the AFT 2.0 30 year ONE PERCENT (NOT ONE CENT) $18 BILLION rail tax do-over on the ballot.

All three of these TMO's are primarily Tampa focused. 

The County created a Consent Agenda category "Community and Infrastructure Planning" for these handouts. 

Consent Agenda A-4 hands county transportation tax dollars to the Tampa Downtown Partnership, a 501(c)(6) non-profit:
The Tampa Downtown Partnership also administers the Special Services District (SSD) program through an annual contract with the City of Tampa.

The Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Transportation Management Organization looks for ways to improve Downtown mobility, commuting, and parking options. The goal is to provide maximum accessibility and mobility to and within the urban core by offering multiple options that are fast, convenient, and sustainable.

The Transportation and Urban Design Committees keep Downtown stakeholders engaged, informed, and provide a voice for transportation and planning issues.
The city of Tampa already funds the Downtown Partnership. The Downtown Partnership already has a Transportation Committee to engage on transportation issues. 

The Downtown Partnership supported the 30 Year ONE PERCENT 2010 rail tax boondoggle that was defeated. Back then Karen Kress, the Partnership's Director of Transportation and Planning, condescendingly said:
...the real key for a transit system isn't simply ridership. It's also how the system boosts development
I've been to some discussions, and the concepts may be too much for the public to grasp
Instead of density, we need to talk about compact development, and how that helps everyone.
Karen Kress was appointed by the city of Tampa to the Hillsborough County Planning Organization in 2017 for a term thru 2025. 

Of course there's no conflict of interest. The Planning Organization is tied at the hip and is the sister organization of the Hillsborough County Transportation Planning Organization (TPO). All of the Tampa Centric 5 Democrat county commissioners (Kimberly Overman, Mariella Smith, Gwen Myers, Harry Cohen and Pat Kemp) who voted to put AFT 2.0 rail tax do-over on the ballot sit on the TPO's Board. 

The Downtown Partnership is totally focused on the downtown urban core. Below is what is promoted on the web page of the Partnership's Transportation Committee that Kress leads.

Downtown Partnership promotes the 
Tampa Streetcar and Rail on their web page

No one on the Board of the Downtown Partnership are transportation engineers or experts. They are political science majors, marketing, public relations, former lobbyist, urban architects.

At the March 23, 2022 County Commission meeting, Lynda Remund, the CEO of the Downtown Partnership, spoke in support of putting the AFT 2.0 30 year ONE PERCENT (NOT ONE CENT) $18 BILLION rail tax do-over on the ballot. Remund, like Commissioner Pat Kemp, gets 4 Pinocchios for falsely claiming it is a ONE CENT tax.


At the April 20, 2022 Referendum Public Hearing, the Downtown Partnership's Karen Kress spoke in support of the AFT 2.0 rail tax. She spoke of living in Boston in her 20'a taking the train for $27 a month. (The taxpayers must subsidize the vast majority of the cost of her train rides). Kress lamented that her children "only know Transport from the back of a car or on a Bike Trail and that's not OK". 

Astoundingly Kress also said at the public hearing "I view taxes as my rent to live in America." Whoa!!

The Downtown Partnership was ALL IN for AFT's 2018 ILLEGAL rail tax according to this article appropriately titled Tampa Downtown Partnership backs Hillsborough transit tax plan

Surprise! According to their 2020 990 tax filing, Tyler Hudson, the Chair of AFT, is a Director with the Downtown Partnership.

Membership in the Downtown Partnership range from an individual "downtown supporter" of $125 to corporate memberships of $10K. 

Why is the County handing the Downtown Partnership county transportation tax dollars for something they already do and can fund themselves?

Consent Agenda A-5 hands County transportation tax dollars to USF and their "New North Transportation Alliance (NNTA) Transportation Management Organization (TMO)". This TMO already gets funding from USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research and participates in FDOT's Commuter Assistance Program.

Surprise! Karen Kress of the Tampa Downtown Partnership is a member of this USF NNTA TMO. Transit agency HART, City of Tampa, Temple Terrace and the Hillsborough TPO - all entities who would receive gobs of AFT 2.0 rail tax dollars - are also members. 

Partners of the NNTA include:

Advent Health donated $100K and Moffitt donated $50K to AFT's 2018 ILLEGAL rail

Surprise! the Tampa Downtown Partnership and the Westshore Alliance (see below) are partners of NNTA. Why does NNTA consider these nonprofits a Public Sector partner of NNTA? 

The NNTA is run by those who work for USF's Center for Urban Transportation and Research (CUTR). 

Why is the NNTA receiving County transportation tax dollars when it can fund its own transportation outreach and promotion of transportation "options"?

Consent Agenda Item A-6 hands County transportation tax dollars to the Westshore Alliance TMO. The Westshore Alliance is also a non-profit. Its Officers include those who work for Carlton Fields, HDR and one of the "Wonder Women" Ann Kulig who is the Executive Director. Law firm Carlton Fields donated $20K to AFT's 2018 ILLEGAL rail tax.

The Westshore Alliance Board members include those who work for WSP (formerly known as Parsons Brinckerhoff - remember the 2016 Go Hillsborough scandal), TECO, Tampa Bay Bucs, Cushman & Wakefield, Moffitt, law firm Gray Robinson (legal counsel for HART transit agency) and the Tampa Bay Chamber. 

All of the above donated to AFT's 2018 ILLEGAL rail tax, including $100K from the Bucs, $25K from WSP, $50K from Moffitt, $50K from TECO, $20K from Carlton Fields, $15K from Gray Robinson (legal counsel for HART who would receive BILLIONS of new AFT tax dollars) and $5K from the Tampa Bay Chamber. 

Moving Hillsborough Forward (MHF) was the official PAC supporting and advocating for the 2010 rail tax that thankfully was defeated. Surprise! MHF's 2010 donors included HDR, Parsons Brinckerhoff (now WSP), AECOM, Carlton Fields, Florida Blue Cross, TECO, Cushman & Wakefield, Gray Robinson and the Tampa Chamber. 

These organizations are all represented on the Westshore Alliance Board.

Obviously, the Westshore Alliance can fund its own mission of "increasing the community's knowledge and understanding of transportation options and identifying transportation needs of commuters". 

Why is the Westshore Alliance receiving County transportation tax dollars to do what they can fund themselves?

These three Tampa focused TMO's are all intertwined within a bubble of those who support rail tax boondoggles. 

These TMO's are intertwined with and have very cozy relationships with taxpayer funded entities, many of whom stand to receive billions and millions of new tax dollars from a massive rail tax hike.  

Do these cozy relationships breed distrust?

Why is the County handing out these transportation tax dollars right after the commissioners voted to put the AFT 2.0 $18 BILLION rail tax do-over on the ballot?

The only way to have any discussion about a Consent Agenda item is for a commissioner to request it be taken off the Consent Agenda so that it may be discussed as a regular agenda item.

Is handing out County transportation tax dollars to Tampa focused organizations fair and equitable to the residents and businesses in unincorporated Hillsborough where 2/3 of the County's population reside? Are there some conflicts of interests? 

Why are county transportation tax dollars going to organizations run by those who supported the 2018 illegal tax?

Is there an appearance of a circle of money amongst rail tax supporters?

Is it reasonable to believe handing County transportation tax dollars to organizations who are primarily Tampa focused controversial? It does not matter the amount of the funding, it is whether these entities should get the funding.

Is it reasonable for taxpayers to be concerned about these intertwined organizations who want to push "their" agenda with County transportation tax dollars? 

A County commissioner should ask to remove these items from the Consent agenda to allow discussion and questions to be answered. 

The public deserves to hear more about these agenda items and why the County wants to fund these intertwined TMO's.

Stay tuned and Keep Your Eye on EyeOnTampaBay for more information local media will not report. 

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