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Kevin Jackson takes over the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Six weeks into 2017, the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission finally has a new executive director to succeed the controversial Kyle Cockream. It’s Kevin Jackson, who is expected to remain with the troubled agency as it transitions into obsolescence at the end of the year.

Jackson’s contract is only good for the end of the year. Legislation pending in Tallahassee would dissolve the PTC, and there is already work being done to transition the infrastructure of the PTC onto the Hillsborough County Commission. Unlike every other county in the state, the county commission in Hillsborough has not regulated the use of for-hire vehicles. Instead, the Legislature through a Special Act created the Hillsborough County PTC in the 1970’s. That means only the Legislature can dissolve the PTC.

The local Hillsborough delegation voted in December to support a bill sponsored in the Florida House by Tampa Republican Jamie Grant calling for the agency to die by December 31 of this year.

“We have a very unique opportunity as the Special Act is repealed, a clean slate and start over, and start moving those responsibilities into the county in some way, shape or form,” Jackson told PTC members, adding that he’s “highly motivated to get this done by December 31.”

This is not the first time that Jackson has served the PTC. In 2013, he served a seven month stint as interim director, filling in between the time that former PTC director Cesar Padilla resigned and before Cockream was hired.

PTC board members unanimously approved the terms of Jackson’s contract, which will pay him $130,000, retroactive from Monday. He will undergo a background check and is required to attend classes on ethics as part of the contract.

Jackson had been the chief investigator of Hillsborough County’s Consumer Protection Agency when County Administrator Mike Merrill recommended he succeed Padilla in September of 2013. His selection came after Padilla’s tenure had become untenable after it was revealed he was moonlighting as a security guard at a used equipment auction.

Cockream’s hiring in early 2014 was supposed to help clean up the agency’s troubled reputation, and for awhile, it did.

He came in with a sterling reputation coming off of a 28-year career with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office, but things were changing with the agency, as ridesharing companies Uber and Lyft  began operating in Hillsborough County in April of 2014. Cockream (initially along with former PTC chairman Victor Crist) became the faces of the agency as it began cracking down on Uber and Lyft drivers, who were operating illegally by not agreeing to be regulated by the PTC.

Litigation ensued shortly thereafter, before an agreement to have the ridesharing companies operate legally was finally signed in late 2016.

Cockream announced shortly thereafter that he would be resigning for good at the end of the year as his tenure had become increasingly controversial, after revelations about some of his actions as PTC chairman caused discomfort with some members.

It was not the first time that he  announced he was leaving the agency. In April of 2016, Cockream said he would be stepping down in July, shortly after Florida Politics reported Cockream had met with Palm Beach County commissioners regarding issues related to the ridesharing companies.

He continued to stay on the job, but a series of released email exchanges with officials from the taxicab and limousine industry in Tampa prompted new criticism, none more damaging than the report he had used employees from local taxicab and limousine companies to assist in PTC-led sting operations to issue citations to Lyft and Uber drivers. That development prompted the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement to open up an investigation into those charges, but it ended with no action.

However, last month the FDLE opened a new inquiry into Cockream, this time regarding his handling of public records. On Monday, Cockream repeatedly pleaded the Fifth Amendment during a deposition into whether public records were deleted from agency cell phones, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Meanwhile, also at Tuesday’s meeting, the PTC board opted to reject the recommendation by PTC staff to hire Gray Robinson to investigate Cockream’s actions as head of the PTC.

“I think the expectation is that this board will no longer be in existence so to some degree it’s a moot point,” said Nate Kilton, a PTC board member and Plant City Commissioner. “I think potentially it’s a waste of dollars. I think we need to be looking forward and not backwards.”

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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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