Tampa Bay Times Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Tampa Bay Partnership on board with Jack Latvala-Dan Raulerson bill creating regional transit agency

Legislation that would create a regional transit agency connecting four Tampa Bay-area counties breezed through committees in both the House and Senate last week.

The proposed agency would be created in advance of a much anticipated Florida Dept. of Transportation transit study scheduled to be completed next year.

“It’s a real project. It’s not just talk. And so we realized that in order to get this started, we needed to have the right kind of planning and the right operational structure in place that will give us a greater chance of success,” says Rick Homans, president of the Tampa Bay Partnership, the local economic development group. The creation of the agency was the number one “ask” of the Partnership going into the legislative session.

Although some observers have said the bill seems like a rehashed version of TBARTA, the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority that was created a decade ago but without any funding to fulfill its goals, the newly proposed agency’s scope has been reduced from seven Bay area counties to four, and was originally just three – Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco.

Manatee County was added after Senator Bill Galvano advocated for its inclusion, Homans said.

Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson did hear some concerns from lawmakers when he introduced the bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee last week, mostly about the composition of the 13-member board. As of now, there would be seven members selected from the private sector and six lawmakers.

“The most important thing is we try to create a governance structure that encourages participation by people who think regionally,” says Homans, adding that he’s not so concerned with the exact balance, as “long as they support the mission.”

There has been increasing talk over the last year or so of creating a regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). Homans says that there will be a meeting on May 12 in St. Petersburg with MPO officials, elected officials and business leaders to kickoff discussions about a potential regional MPO.

The Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday about the relative lack of requests for transportation projects by Tampa Bay area lawmakers this session.

“First, you have to have a plan,” Homans says about why that’s the case. “We don’t have a plan. Then you need an organization to implement it and build it, and then you need an organization to operate it, and we don’t have those things in place. We’re moving towards putting those structures into place to make the ‘big ask.'”

The bill is being pushed in the Senate by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, who has a keen interest in seeing the local transit agencies work closer together.

“We’ve got a lot of folks in my party that just bury their head in the sand when it comes to transportation,” the venerable lawmaker said last summer when talking about the handling of the critical Tampa Bay area issue.

Michael LaForgia leaving Tampa Bay Times to join New York Times investigative reporting team

Another award-winning Tampa Bay Times reporter and editor is moving on.

On Thursday, the paper announced Michael LaForgia is heading to The New York Times to become part of its investigative reporting team.

The 33-year-old LaForgia has been the investigative editor for the Tampa Bay Times since August, and with the paper overall since 2012. He has been twice part of a team that won a Pulitzer for Local Reporting.

The first Pulitzer was in 2014, when LaForgia and Will Hobson won for exposing problems in a Hillsborough County homeless program. In 2016, he was part of the team that won for “Failure Factories,” the much-heralded series on Pinellas County’s neglect of five schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. LaForgia shared that award with colleagues Lisa Garner and Cara Fitzpatrick (who is married to LaForgia). The three reporters on Failure Factories also shared a George Polk Award, IRE Medal and the Worth Bingham Prize.

LaForgia is a South Carolina native who graduated from the University of South Carolina. He started at The Florida Times-Union and worked at The Palm Beach Post before joining the Times.

“I’m excited about the opportunity but sorry to leave the Tampa Bay Times. I was ready to spend the next several years here, but this opportunity found me — and it was too good to pass up,” LaForgia told SPB Thursday night. “I’m not at all worried about what my leaving might mean for the Tampa Bay Times. It’s a place that regularly takes good reporters and molds them into great reporters, and that process will continue no matter who comes or goes. I’m just grateful I got to work with the journalists here for as long as I did.”

The New York Times announced the hire Thursday. He will start with them April 3.

LaForgia becomes the second major member of the Times investigative unit to announce his departure in the past two weeks. Reporter-editor Alex Zayas announced last week she will be departing for New York in June to work with ProPublica.


Tampa Bay Times’ Alexandra Zayas to work for ProPublica

Tampa Bay Times award-winning investigative reporter Alexandra Zayas is departing the newspaper to work for ProPublica, the investigative non-profit organization based in New York City.

The 34-year-old Miami native has been with the Times since 2005, coming to work for the paper after graduating from the University of Miami.

“It’s a really exciting time to join ProPublica,” she said Monday morning, a few hours after the news of her hiring went live. “Investigative journalism is having a very important moment right now, and it’s going to one of the best places to be there for that. It’s a great opportunity.”

Zayas began at the Times covering a variety of beats before working with the investigative team, where her 2013 three-part series “In God’s Name,” put her into the national spotlight.

The series exposed abuse at unlicensed religious group homes in Florida, and won the 2013 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting that year.

It was at that time that Zayas was offered jobs at competing news organizations but decided to stay put, saying now that she still felt she could learn more under Chris Davis, who spent five years at the Times as the deputy managing editor for investigations and data before leaving last summer to work for USA Today.

Other big stories followed, including the 2015 “Biking While Black” piece regarding the Tampa Police Dept.’s policy of disproportionately citing black bicyclists. The story roiled City Hall for much of that year, ultimately leading to the creation of a police citizen’s review board as well as a Justice Dept. review of the TDP (the DOJ report said the policy was “not discriminatory,” but also not effective).

A homeowner in Seminole Heights with a partner and a child (and another one the way), Zayas calls the decision to leave living Tampa and the Times, “an excruciating choice,” because she’s adopted the Cigar City as her own hometown.

“It was a very painful choice,” she says. “I have decided not to take other opportunites over the past few years, and this one was just too good to pass up.”

She’s not yet out the door, however. Her next major piece, a report on juvenile car theft in Pinellas County, will be published sometime in the next month.

“Alex embodies ProPublica’s commitment to digging deep into pressing and often complex issues, with a sharp mind for making all stories engaging to a general audience,” said Robin Fields, ProPublica’s managing editor, in a story published on ProPublica’s site. “We have long admired her conversation-starting, high-impact work, and are excited to welcome her to our team.”

Zayas begins at ProPublica in June.

Andrew Warren slams proposed bill that would shift the burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases

Elected on a platform of wanting to reform much of Hillsborough County’s current system of justice,State Attorney Andrew Warren is voicing his strong opposition to a measure pending in the Florida Legislature that would shift the burden of proof in ‘Stand Your Ground’ self-defense cases.

The bill, sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley (SB 128), would shift the burden of proof to prosecutors during evidentiary hearings in self-defense cases. It stems from a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2015 that said defendants have the burden of proof to show they should be shielded from prosecution under the “stand your ground” law.

“Proponents of changing the law claim it restores the fundamental principal of justice that a citizen is innocent until proven guilty. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Warren writes in an op-ed published in Friday’s Tampa Bay Times. Our Constitution guarantees the innocence of the accused until every element of the crime has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As the state attorney for Hillsborough County, I wholeheartedly embrace our extremely high burden of proof to obtain a conviction. The proposed changes, however, create an unnecessary and technical legal hurdle in the law to force the state to disprove a defense — which would often require proving a negative — beyond a reasonable doubt, upending the constitutional standard and centuries-old common law.”

Warren also says passage of the bill would be extremely costly to Hillsborough taxpayers, writing that if it were implemented, “we will need more judges, more courtrooms, more prosecutors and more law enforcement officers. In Hillsborough County, this would impact more than 5,000 cases per year. If only half of those cases involve a claim of “stand your ground” immunity, the time and resources in my office alone amount to nearly $3 million annually.”

The 40-year-old Warren is a former federal prosecutor who won in a stunning upset victory over 16-year GOP incumbent State Attorney Mark Ober in November. He was one of a wave of  reform-minded candidates who won prosecutorial races in major jurisdictions across the country, including Aramis Ayala in Orange County and Melissa Nelson in Jacksonville.

Bradley’sproposal passed the Senate during the 2016 session but failed to get to the House floor. It’s being sponsored in the House this spring by Duval County Republican Jason Fischer and Palatka Republican Bobby Payne.


Newsprint vendor sues Tampa Bay Times over defaulted $340K debt

A newsprint vendor is suing the Tampa Bay Times, claiming the paper owes more than $340,000 in debt from the acquisition of the Tampa Tribune last year.

Emails submitted in the suit show a story of increasing disarray with vendors at the 121-year-old Trib leading up to the May 2016 purchase.

In April 2015, the Tribune issued a promissory note to Boise Packaging acknowledging an unpaid debt of nearly $600,000 for newsprint. Boise Packaging is a subsidiary of Packaging Corporation of America, an Illinois-based manufacturer of corrugated boxes and paper products.

The note came about three years after Revolution Capital Group, led by Robert David Loring Jr., purchased the struggling paper for $9.5 million.

Court records show the Tribune agreeing to weekly payments until the debt was clear. Boise’s credit manager Steve Grant, in a series of emails in 2015, communicated with Revolution Capital chief financial officer Stanley Huang about the Tribune’s unpaid debt.

On June 8, 2015, Grant wrote to Huang: “My patience has run out. Last chance to begin paying $10,000 a week without fail. Failure to do so will result in legal action. The ball is in your court.”

Huang responded with several excuses — including the postponed sale of the Tribune’s headquarters and unexpected employee health-insurance claims — for the paper’s failure to make payments.

“I can definitely appreciate and understand your frustration,” Huang responded. “To be honest, you weren’t at the bottom of the list. There were other current vendors that didn’t get paid this week. The medical claims typically come in around $50K a week, but this week it skyrocketed to $110K and ate up all the availability we had on paying vendors.”

“I wish people didn’t get sick and we didn’t have to pay these medical costs that just automatically get drawn,” said Huang’s email of June 26. “I don’t ever call in sick and rarely do I go to the doctor so I wonder where do all of these medical claims come from.”

“Hopefully you won’t find a lawsuit necessary,” Huang said.

Nevertheless, when the Tampa Bay Times took over the Tribune, it was with a stock deal in which the Times assumed the Trib’s liabilities.

By then, the Tribune owed Boise $403,773, plus interest.

Soon after, Times chief financial officer Jana Jones promised Grant the paper would set up a repayment plan, saying the previously agreed upon arrangement “is likely to work for us as well.”

A May 26 email from Jones acknowledges the Times acquired the debt to Boise Packaging, asking for a few weeks to set up a new plan.

“Things haven’t really settled down … it is very busy,” she wrote. “In addition to the systems/operations integration, we are still untangling all of the past due invoices from various vendors. Candidly, it’s taking longer than anticipated.”

However, Jones noted, the debt remained obligations of the Tampa Media Group.

“That company remains active,” she said. “We are not transferring obligations to Times Publishing Company.”

In July 2016, the Times promised Boise monthly payments ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 until December 2017, when the debt would be fully retired.

In the suit, filed Feb. 22 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, Boise claims the Times defaulted on the revised repayment plan, making only two such monthly payments.

A legal notice sent to Jones from Boise Packaging attorney Monica Cockerille points out that while the vendor did receive payments for July and August, they did receive one for September, and — at the time of the letter, Oct. 25 – no payment for October.

The suit, which names the Tampa Bay Times, Revolution Capital, and Tampa Media Group, is asking for $340,983 in unpaid principal, plus interest.

Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Tash says a priority for him is to ‘reconnect’ with Donald Trump supporters

Although the Tampa Bay Times has a national presence, its greatest impact is, arguably, its reporting on what’s going on in the Tampa Bay area and the state of Florida. Yet when Paul Tash, the paper’s president and CEO, came before the usually aggressive members of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club in St. Petersburg on Tuesday, most of those who got the chance to ask him a question focused on their concerns about the phenomenon known as “fake news” and other related aspects to the emergence of Donald Trump as the country’s 45th President.

“Fake news – that is, fake news that has been entirely made up, has been with us for a long time,” Tash said in his prepared remarks, as images of famed covers of the Weekly World News were displayed behind him. “But nobody really expected you to believe this,” he said of such over the top stories.

But he said fake news took a dark turn last year when a detailed conspiracy theory known as “Pizzagate” happened. That was the story about the perception by a North Carolina man that a pedophile ring run by Hillary Clinton was operating out of Washington D.C. pizzeria. It ultimately resulted with that man terrifying customers and workers with his ­assault-style rifle as he searched the establishment.

Tash said the way the Times answers fake news and truth from fiction is with PolitFact, its ten-year-old journalism project that captured a Pulitzer Prize in 2009 and has since spread to other news organizations across the globe.

If there was a central theme to the CEO’s remarks, it’s that it was up to the public to care about quality journalism.

“It’s up to news organizations to help figure out what’s true, what’s fact and what’s fake. But that won’t matter unless we care.”

The Times financial situation has been well documented in the media. The paper took out a $28 million loan in 2013, and borrowed another $13.3 million just before purchasing the Tampa Tribune last year. When asked about how the paper’s finances are doing in 2017, Tash said “we are cash flow positive,” and said that the acquisition of the Tribune last May has helped expand its circulation.

Nobody’s cash flow is better at the Times than Tash’s, who made $487,000 in 2015.

He acknowledged that print journalism is “not an easy business,” and said the fact that retailers like J.C. Penney’s and Macy’s are closing stores could also constitute a problem for the paper, since that could reduce the money that those retailers will spend on print advertising.

After the Times purchased the Tribune last year, the paper announced that it would expand its editorial pages, and include more right-of-center voices. Tash said one of his priorities for this year is to “continue to connect, or reconnect, with the good people who voted for Donald Trump.”

“That was not the editorial position, that the newspapers took,” he said regarding nearly every paper in the country’s endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president (only six major papers around the country endorsed Trump). Trump won Pinellas County last fall.

“I want to make sure that we stay in touch, and stay connected,” he added.

There were a few questions that came from Tiger Bay members about the Times coverage of local issues.

Pinellas County Democratic Executive Committee Chair Susan McGrath questioned the Times endorsement of Philip Garett over incumbent Steve Kornell in the 2015 St. Pete City Council District 6 race. It was a a recommendation, McGrath asserted, that “many believe was motivated by interests to keep the baseball team in the Bay area.”

Tash punted on the response, saying he couldn’t recall the particulars of that editorial decision, quickly segueing to affirming how valuable the Times recommendations are, particularly in local judicial races.

And Tash wasn’t about to take the heat for Big Journalism everywhere when it came to the reporting on Clinton. When Pinellas County Democratic activist Bill Bucolo asked if there was “selective enforcement” of the press making a large issue out of certain things such as the  Whitewater  scandal of the 1990’s, he said most definitely not.

“There were questions being raised and they deserved answers and I would say the one of the problems that Mrs. Clinton has is the basic tendency to try to coverup,” he said, adding that it was one of the things that “diminished her candidacy. This steady, incremental, by degree kind of grudging recognition of what was later revealed to be true.”

“The Republicans think the selected enforcement works against them, and not the Democrats,” he said, adding, “We do our best to be even handed.”

Tampa Bay Times acknowledges its recent stories on Mosaic spill are inaccurate

Last week, the Tampa Bay Times quoted two retired hydrology experts who slammed the phosphate giant Mosaic and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection over the massive sinkhole that exploded under a gypsum stack at Mosaic’s New Wales plant in Mulberry last summer, resulting in 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater released into the Florida aquifer.

Don Rice and Mary Hrenda told the Times that a full year before the incident, monitoring wells around the stack showed a sinkhole was developing, and that both Mosaic and the DEP should have been aware of the sinkhole at the time. The information was also presented at a news conference last Friday with environmental groups in Manatee County.

“They should have seen this 2016 sinkhole coming,” Rice told the Times last Thursday. “Alarm bells should have been going off — danger, danger!”

Now the Times acknowledges that Rice and Hrenda have retracted their statements.

“News organizations routinely cover disputes between two credible sides, and that’s what we did in our original story,” says Jennifer Orsi, managing editor of the Times, in an email. “Mosaic, which declined to discuss the allegations for that story, responded the next day, and we covered that as well. Now, the hydrologists quoted in our original story have retracted their findings and expressed regret, which we will cover in a story on the front page of Wednesday’s Tampa Bay Times. Stories evolve, and we routinely cover those steps as they happen.”

Upon publication of the story Friday, both the DEP and Mosaic strongly disputed the report, and on Tuesday the first independently affiliated group, a relatively new organization based in Florida called the Center for Sustainability and Conservation (CFSC) weighed in.

The group released findings from an independent, Florida-licensed geologist, which also contradicted information originally published in the Times about the genesis of last year’s spill.

“Our geologist concluded that the increase in water levels were due to a grouting program in the area and not the precursor to a sinkhole. In his opinion, an indication of a sinkhole would have produced a drop in water levels, not an increase,” said Dave Gray, founder and Executive Director of CFSC.

Gray said he had his own independent Florida-licensed geologist, Abner Patton, reviewed the data and information Rice provided to environmental groups at last week’s news conference.

In his report, Abner writes that the “significant rise in water levels” in the three recognized aquifers near the New Wales facility “is not related to an event associated with the 2016 sinkhole collapse. In fact, our interpretation would be just the opposite response, significant decline in water levels would have occurred as the sinkhole was developing.”

Abner also refers to a grouting program conducted in the spring and summer of 2015. He notes that it is his interpretation that significant level changes in the three wells “are the result of a successful grouting program within the confining unit.”

“The data and information surrounding Florida’s natural resources and geology are complex and multidisciplined,” Gray said. “It is imperative that everyone understands such data can be used to draw false claims and manipulate conclusions to different outcomes, especially if examined by someone who is not licensed in Florida and does not have a thorough understanding of Florida’s unique geology.”

Rice and Hrenda, who is his wife, both worked as hydrologists in New Jersey, not Florida.

The Times report was challenged last week by the DEP, which said that the data in question have “nothing to do with the formation of the 2016 sinkhole.”

“The data the Tampa Bay Times provided is referring to monitoring wells under the closed North stack at the New Wales facility, which was closed in 2005, not under the South stack where the 2016 sinkhole formed,” the DEP said on Friday.

“I don’t think they did their diligence on evaluating the data, I think they chose some data they thought could carry a message and ran with it, whether or not that message was correct,” said David Jellerson, Mosaic’s Senior Director of Environmental and Phosphate Projects.

At the news conference in front of the Manatee County Commission last Friday, a host of environmental groups called for an investigation of the DEP, and said they were sending a letter to Gov. Rick Scott and State Attorney General Pam Bondi. It was signed by Suncoast Waterkeeper, the Center for Biological Diversity, People for Protecting the Peace River, ManaSota-88, Sierra Club Manatee-Sarasota and Saving the Face of Florida.

They said that the agency was “negligent, possibly criminally negligent” when it failed to recognize warning signs of a sinkhole and taking preventive measures to drain the stack.

On Wednesday, Mosaic officials are set to go before the Manatee County Commission over the proposal to approve the expansion of a phosphate mine on a 3,600-acre plot in Myakka City. The environmental groups strongly oppose the plan.

Mosaic pushes back hard against Tampa Bay Times over sinkhole reporting

Following a report from the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pittman regarding the sinkhole that opened up on Mosaic Fertilizer’s property in late 2016, the company sent out a scathing rebuke to media alleging Pittman “continues to provide a platform for false information.”

In the report, Pittman interviewed Don Rice, a former hydrologist from the U.S. Geological Survey, who alleges the company should have seen the signs of a sinkhole forming.

Jackie Barron, a Mosaic spokeswoman, said the claims made in Pittman’s article are “fundamentally wrong.”

“The water level increases cited in his article were observed in a location that is in no way related to the recent sinkhole at Mosaic’s New Wales facility,” Barron wrote in a memo to media.

The company is also taking issue with the newspaper’s failure to check the facts before reporting.

“Responsible journalists check facts from multiple sources to get to the truth before they accuse a company of negligence,” said the memo. “That did not happen here.”

In a separate release, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection claims allegations by Rice are wrong because they reference a section of Mosaic’s property where a sinkhole did not form.

“This is false because the data they are referring to is from the North stack,” the release said, “which while continuously monitored and intact, has been closed and non-operational for nearly 12 years.”

The DEP also takes issue with the Times’ failure to disclose the data used by Rice as the basis for his allegations.

“After multiple requests for the Tampa Bay Times’ reporter to provide the data being referenced, DEP was pointed to one chart on Page 5 of a July 2016 monitoring report, which DEP had reviewed and posted online Aug. 11, 2016,” the statement said. “DEP has posted monitoring reports for the two stacks, North and South, at the Mosaic New Wales facility dating back to 1994, and these reports have been available online since 2013.”

Last week, Mosaic employees began work filling the sinkhole. As part of the effort, Mosaic employees plan to work 24 hours per day with a six-day workweek.

Mosaic estimates the sinkhole will be filled by the rainy season.

Hillsborough MPO head wants to slow down talk of new regional transportation authority

Beth Alden is looking to have a serious discussion about regional transportation in the Tampa Bay area.

In early 2017, the consensus among the political and business establishment is that the Tampa Bay region must come together as one cohesive regional entity to maximize its leverage before anything can be done about transportation.

However, Alden, the head of the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Organization (MPO), wants to put on the brakes.

“Let’s not do this half-assed,” she asserted in an interview earlier this week. “If we’re going to do this, let’s do this for real. Let’s have a real conversation about this.”

Alden fears that with the regular legislative session scheduled to begin in just a few weeks that conversation with all the key players involved won’t happen in time.

According to a new white paper prepared by the D.C.-based Enos Center for Transportation, a regional structure for transportation planning, operations and decision-making is paramount to developing a regional transportation system.

The document was sponsored by the Tampa Bay Partnership, who is leading the way to have the eight-county region come together as one unit to facilitate and expedite transportation improvements.

Speaking at a meeting of the Tampa Bay Area Legislative Delegation in Clearwater last week was Veology CEO Barry Shelvin, who is the co-chair transportation working group with the TBP with Jeff Vinik.

Shelvin said two goals for the Partnership this year is to create a multicounty MPO and to a support a regional center for transit operations.

HART and PSTA, the two biggest transit agencies in the Bay area, should have a “closer relationship,” he said, leaving it open as to how that happens.

HART and PSTA formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding this week, which some transit critics fear is a stalking horse toward another sales tax referendum, or possibly a merger of the agencies.

That concern led HART officials to explicitly add language to the agreement saying that won’t happen.

The Hillsborough County MPO already has formal planning agreements with Pinellas, Hernando, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Manatees counties, all working within the MPO TBARTA coordinating committee.

In December, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) jointly finalized a new rule calling for MPO’s in urbanized areas to merge. It was first promulgated last summer, and Alden says her organization has spent the past six months studying four different cases on how MPO’s organize planning processes in other parts of the country.

“We think we have crafted a thoughtful approach that includes public discussion of the issue, and independent nationwide research into effective strategies to address the issue of regionalization,” she says. “We can do this well, but we need to do our homework.”

Alden was inspired to post a lengthy comment on the MPO’s Facebook page last week following a Tampa Bay Times editorial lauding the Enos Center report, writing: “I’m not at all saying we should do nothing for regional transit. I’m saying we have to walk before we can fly.”

The Times editorial and Clearwater state Sen. Jack Latvala have invoked the example of Tampa Bay Water as a template for creating a regional transportation authority, but Alden questions that logic.

In the case of Tampa Bay Water, local governments turned over their own water resources to a third party to sell the water back to them at wholesale prices. Alden wants to know how that apply to regional transit.

“The primary source of operating funding for transit is a property tax levy, so what are we talking about, asking HART and PSTA to begin turning over their property tax to an independent agency across multiple counties?” she asks.

Disagreeing with Alden is Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long, who says the time is now for the Legislature to create a Tampa Bay area transit authority.

“Now they’re going to do another study?” she asked disdainfully. “As if this issue has not been studied to death.”

At long last, Jamie Grant files bill to kill Hillsborough PTC

Tampa GOP state Representative Jamie Grant has filed a bill (HB 647) that would eliminate the controversial Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission.

“With new information being made public every day, it becomes increasingly clear that this agency needs to be abolished,” Grant said in a statement. “Everything that has come to light has confirmed what we knew all along; that this agency no longer serves a useful purpose and the residents of Hillsborough County deserve better.”

That ‘new information’ Grant is referring to is the continued negative reports regarding the PTC’s former Kyle Cockream, who resigned at the end of last year.

Over the weekend, expletive-laden text messages between Cockream and PTC chief inspector Brett Saunders surfaced in a story published in the Tampa Bay Times. They were discovered as a result of an investigation being conducted against the PTC by a Sarasota law firm.

Cockream resigned last fall (the second time that he had announced he would be leaving the agency) after former PTC chairman Victor Crist called for an investigation as the result of reports about Cockream showing favoritism towards the taxicab industry. The PTC regulates all vehicle-for-hire companies in Hillsborough County, which over the past three years has included trying to get transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft to come to terms with the PTC.

For years, the PTC had agents who had been issuing citations against Uber and Lyft drivers for operating illegally in the county. The PTC and the ridesharing companies did finally come to an agreement last fall.

The announcement of Grant’s legislation is no surprise, as the entire Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation voted to support the bill when he proposed it back in December. It calls for the agency to  end all operations on December 31, 2017.

As of now it is not certain who would inherit the duties of the PTC, although every other county in the state finds a way to do so (the PTC is the only type of agency of its kind in Florida). The Board of County Commissioners could be that agency, although Tax Collector Doug Belden has recently said his office could take over those responsibilities.

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