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Kathleen Shanahan appointed by HART to new transit board, but not without controversy

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) voted to appoint Kathleen Shanahan as its representative on the newly reconstructed TBARTA (the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority) board on Monday, but only after debating whether it was better to appoint an elected official or a member of the general public.

Shanahan is a private businesswoman who for decades has been a major player in Republican circles in Florida and Washington D.C. Originally nominated by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to serve on the board for a three-year term in the fall of 2014, she’s frequently discussed the importance of HART getting a seat at the table with state and federal officials to benefit the agency.

Shanahan initially declined the nomination and instead backed Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who was originally nominated by her Board of County Commission colleague Pat Kemp. 

But sentiment quickly grew on the board that it would be better if they selected a non-elected member of its board to TBARTA’s board.

“I don’t think there’s a confidence in our elected community at this point in time and I think it’s our responsibility to reach beyond that and bring somebody in who’s really passionate about this and has knowledge as well,” said HART board member Mickey Jacob, who then nominated John Melendez, an engineering consultant who has served on the board since being appointed by Governor Rick Scott in 2012.

During the 2017 Legislative Session, Florida lawmakers supported the proposal of reconfiguring the TBARTA board. Among those changes was altering the title of the organization from the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Agency to the Tampa Bay Regional Transit Agency, reducing the counties in the agency from 7 to 5, and creating a new 13-member board; Five will represent the specific counties in TBARTA (Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough, Manatee and Hernando); two members will be selected by the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg; PSTA and HART will select a single memebr, and Governor Rick Scott will get four picks.

It was a major priority for the Tampa Bay area business community, though some have criticized the fervor for what on the surface seems to be a simply reshuffling of an agency that hasn’t been very relevant in the discussion about improving transportation in the region.

While Kemp and Hillsborough County Commission Chair Stacy White backed their colleague Murman’s selection to the new TBARTA board; Commissioner Les Miller said a non-elected appointee to serve would be a “breath of fresh air,” a sentiment echoed by Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez.

But Murman warned the board that the lack of a second BOCC member of the HART board could hurt Hillsborough County when it comes to funding in the future.

“Pinellas County is going to have two county commissioners on TBARTA,” Murman said. “Legislatively they have the power in Pinellas county right now, I think you need to understand that from a state perspective.”

Murman said she was stunned to see how much funding goes to places like Pasco and Pinellas Counties in the last budget. “It’s all in the political influence. And if you think otherwise, you’re just not looking at the facts.”

“Our county is far bigger than the other counties in the region and is really ground zero in the region for transportation,” said Kemp, adding that a decision not to appoint Murman would be doing Hillsborough County wrong.

But Murman said she could count the votes and realized they weren’t there for her. She then withdrew her nomination and asked that Shanahan be renominated.

Shanahan reluctantly accepted the renomination, but echoed Murman’s concerns that it would not be beneficial for HART to choose a non-elected official.

“We’re not being strategic about this and now we’ve turned it into a personality choice, which is unfortunate, because this is really an opportunity for the strength of building on regional funding,” Shanahan said.

She also said that the voters should be more involved in the process, and indirectly criticized Murman and White when she said she believe the County Commission made a mistake a year ago in not putting the Go Hillsborough transportation referendum before the public.

Shanahan, 58, serves as the CEO of URETEK Holdings, Inc., and has previously worked for Jeb Bush, George H.W. Bush and Dick Cheney over the years.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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