Citing a “lack of legal sufficiency,” the Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed a complaint made against Hillsborough Public Transportation Commissioner Chairman Victor Crist.
The complaint was made by Louis Minardi, president of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa. He said that Crist had revealed a conflict of interest in his role as the chair of the PTC involving the current negotiations with the cab companies and transportation network companies Uber and Lyft. The claim specifically involved Crist’s wife, Angela, who works at the University of South Florida as the director of the John Scott Dailey Institute of Government. Minardi obtained affidavits from representatives from three other cab companies and his own son who said that they overheard conversations with Crist in which he acknowledged his wife needs the goodwill of Tampa Bay area state legislators like Jeff Brandes and Jamie Grant to get state grants. Brandes and Grant have been critical of the PTC for years.
But the Commission issued their review on July 29 dismissing the complaint, saying that it “failed to constitute a legally sufficient complaint.”
“I believe in an open deliberative process, I don’t deny anybody their right to the process,” said Crist. “I think it was an overstretch and inappropriate for them to make the complaints that they did, because they were false and deceptive.”
It was the second win by Crist over the cab companies this summer. In May, three taxi cab companies in Tampa (including Minardi’s Yellow Cab) filed a petition in Hillsborough County Court to have Crist removed from participating in the rule-making proceedings after he called to abolish the PTC, but the 2nd District Court of Appeals rejected that petition in June.
Menardi said he wasn’t surprised that the Ethics Commission ruled against his complaint, but said it was still worth filing.
“He went before Brook Nagusei, Rob Searcy, Justin Morgaman and my son Isiah, and said he’s gotta get something done because his wife has grants and stuff in Tallahassee and he was worried about Brandes,” Minardi recalled on Sunday afternoon. “Whether that’s true or not, that’s exactly what he was telling them.”
The Ethics Commission says only two of those four men made reference to Crist talking about grant funding. Those two (they are not specified) quoted Crist as saying, “I have to get off the PTC by November because my wife’s efforts to get grant funding are being held up by Brandes.”
The Ethics report goes on to say that the affidavits :
“(d)o not reflect that the Respondent (Crist) stated that he voted in a particular way to help his wife obtain a grant, and it would be speculative to draw such a conclusion. Even were that conclusion to be drawn, nothing in the materials suggests that the Respondent’s wife would personally benefit from the grant, as opposed to the alleged employer, the John Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government. It is not a violation of the voting conflict law to vote in a mamner that benefits only the employer of one’s spouse. Accordingly, the complain is legally insufficient to allege a violation of Section 112.3143, Florida Statutes.
In his compliant, Minardi has also alleged that Crist made a comment to representatives from the taxicab companies that, “I am the best for you guys because I am the only one willing to pay you money for your permits and have arranged for a loan from the county to do so.”
The Commission ruled that comment was not a possible violation of Section 112.313(6) of the Florida Statutes, “because it is not inconsistent with the proper performance of public duty for an elected or appointed officer to speak to members of the public about issues before the officers’s board to harbor policy views (or policy prejudices).”