In late October, Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long – in her role with the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Agency (PSTA) – came before her counterparts with the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) to talk up the benefits of the two transit agencies collaborating on a more formal basis, which she said could be used as way to leverage the power of the region when trying to procure more federal and state funding.
However at Monday’s HART meeting of its Legislative and Strategic Planning Committee, board member Karen Jaroch strongly objected to the language of a draft copy of the agreement, calling it “very subjective.”
“I contend that there are a lot of reasons why this won’t work,” said Jaroch, who came to prominence as a leading critic of the Moving Hillsborough Forward transit tax initiative that failed in 2010. Among the more problematic proposals for Jaroch, as well as board member Mickey Jacobs, was one that said that “staff will develop a strategic coordination plan to merge operational functions in IT.” Another said that “Staff will identify two departments, including IT, for functional merge in calendar 2017.”
Jaroch also noted how there was resistance from state officials to the joint proposal from the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration that strongly encourages the consolidation of regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations in the nation’s urban areas. (On Friday, the FHA & FTA finalized that rule).
She read several paragraphs from a letter written by officials from the Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council that citied several problems with the proposed rule (however, Carl Mikyska, the Executive Director of that organization, now tells SPB that “overall, MPOAC is not opposed to collaboration of MPOs. In fact, we stated in our letter that we are supportive of voluntary, incentive-based approaches to collaboration. Our letter provides greater detail about our position related to what was at the time, the proposed rule.”).
She then followed up by reciting statements made in a critical letter from Florida Dept. of Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold to the FTA & FHA calling for the proposed rulemaking “to be suspended until legislation is enacted that clarifies the Congressional intent.”
Like several of her fellow board members, Jaroch was resistant to a call by state Senator Jack Latvala back in 2012 to study the benefits of a merger between the Hillsborough and Pinellas agencies, and she made several references to the Pinellas County Republican in her comments.
“I really hate to lose the sense of local control for unfounded reasons,” Jaroch said. “Unfortunately it’s designed to show a certain senator that we are working together. “
Jaroch said that in fact the two agencies are working together, and mentioned several examples of that, clarifying for her that there is no need for an interlocal agreement to certify that. “We need to do what’s best for HART, and not worry about one or two powerful senators who I don’t think has the power that some people may think that he has.”
Latvala is serving over the next two sessions as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, considered to be a prestigious and yes, powerful position in the state legislature.
While no other board member was prepared to respond Jaroch’s swipe at Latvala, Sandy Murman, the chair of the committee, emphasized to Jaroch that HART was a regional transit authority and not the MPO, and said correlating the two was “a bit of a stretch.”
That then led to a general discussion with board members and HART attorney David Smith on how they could strengthen the document. Smith said he thought that some of the proposals “needed to be a little more flexible in some of the goals you’re trying to accomplish.” He also said that a termination clause should also be inserted in the event that HART wanted to get out of the agreement.
“We are moving towards regional cooperation and that is going to be the theme in the Tampa Bay area moving forward in the future with everything,” Murman later added.
HART CEO Katherine Eagan said that she would work with board members and Smith and have a new draft of the interlocal agreement available for review at the committee’s meeting next month.
Meanwhile, PSTA officials want to see the agreement go forward.
“Focusing on regionalism is something that we have been talking about at PSTA for a long time, and we are happy to see our sister-agency getting on board with drafting an early concept of what exactly that would look like,” said PSTA spokesperson Ashlie Handy.“We have a lot of great resources here at PSTA, and we are excited to start talking about the best ways to share these resources across the bay.”