Tensions between supporters and critics of the Tampa Bay Express haven’t tempered after last week’s vote by the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to put the TBX into the organization’s Transportation Improvement Project (TIP).
An email sent out by a member of the Tampa Bay Partnership to the members of the MPO and members of the TBX Yes coalition thanked the members of the MPO who supported the proposal. The letter also listed all of those on the board – both pro and con- who are up for re-election this year in Hillsborough County. Now some anti-TBX critics say that email was a form of intimidation, and they want the Partnership to be investigated for its lobbying efforts.
Ryan Patmintra, the VP of Public Policy and Advocacy for the Partnership, sent an email to all members of the MPO board and other Partnership members on Thursday. At the end of the letter, he noted the five members of the MPO who are up for reelection this year, and noted that he had attached a file that included contact information for the MPO members “in case you wanted to reach out to them.”
Those five members were Sandy Murman, Cindy Stuart, Kevin Beckner, Lisa Montelione and Les Miller.
That last comment by Patmintra apparently irked some TBX critics. Referring to how the Partnership receives funding from the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County, and the Hillsborough County School board, and has been lobbying for the MPO to support the TBX, Rick Fernandez and Lena Young Green – two members of the coalition who are against the Tampa Bay Express being built – assert in a press release that the Partnership “failed to recognize and disclose this conflict of interest” before the MP vote last week and has “tainted” the TIP review and approval process.
“While this may all seem to be politics as usual, it is not what we expect of a 501(c)(3) Not For Profit Corporation partially funded by public money,” their statement reads. “We call for an investigation of Tampa Bay Partnership’s involvement in the TBX lobbying effort including its relationship with FDOT, all discussions with MPO Board members and representatives of member organizations and all inducements promised or political “payback” threatened or implied.”
Fernandez and Young Green also say that “one source has learned TBP intends to form a PAC to oppose candidacies of individuals who voted against TBX.”
Rick Homans, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Partnership, said the statement from the critics of TBX was “riddled with inaccuracies and misrepresentations.”
For one, he says the Partnership is a 501 (c)(6), not a 501(c)(3), which allows the Partnership to lobby and get involved in campaigns. In fact, the Partnership was the leading agency supporting the Moving Hillsborough Forward transportation tax measure in Hillsborough County in 2010.
Fernandez counters that the Partnership receives public funds from organizations whose members sit on the MPO board. “That’s a conflict of interest,” he maintains.
And Homans completely dismisses the suggestion that the Partnership was thinking of creating a PAC “to oppose candidacies of individuals who voted against TBX,” saying that there has never been any such discussions on the subject. He added, “I cannot begin to tell you where this group makes up what process they go through to make up these charges.”
The Partnership has announced that it will launch Advance Tampa Bay, a non-partisan political committee that supports the Partnership’s agenda, but Homans says it has nothing to do specifically with the Tampa Bay Express project.
Regarding the email sent by Patmintra, Homans says it was factual and “left it to our members to decide to get involved in any other way.” Fernandez counters that it was “intended to be chilling in its impact.”
Anti-TBX critics are noting how shortly after the Partnership’s email was sent out, Brian Lamb, the president and CEO of Fifth Third Bank, announced that he was supporting Republican Shawn Harrison in his battle against Montelione in the HD 63 seat this fall.
Lamb told FloridaPolitics.com in an email that Harrison is simply “the better candidate” in the HD 63 race.
When asked if Monteleone’s vote opposing the TBX influence his decision in endorsing Harrison, Lamb wrote that, “Shawn has some history and early leadership with this critically important regional project. He has consistently supported the TBX project, yet another example of where he and I are aligned. I’m sensitive to the number of stakeholders with various views on TBX and those that are impacted in different ways. That being said, the status quo for transportation in Tampa Bay is obsolete and taking no action for change is not a position I can support.”