FDOT Inspector General report exonerates PSTA on Greenlight Pinellas spending

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Late Monday, the Florida Department of Transportation’s Inspector General will release a report stating that PSTA’s Greenlight Pinellas educational outreach is in full compliance with state law on public communications.

According to an advance copy of the report, FDOT concludes that “no evidence that PSTA Greenlight communications contained text prohibited by law.”

The investigation stemmed from a letter from state Sen. Jeff Brandes to FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad. In it, the St. Petersburg Republican asked the agency to review the operation launched by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Among the concerns was that the PSTA spent almost $800,000 on promotional items and novelties such as pens and necklaces.

In the letter, Brandes asked the state to address the “wasteful use of taxpayers’ hard-earned tax monies” by the PSTA advocating in what amounted to a political agenda that, left unchecked, would “erode the fundamental principles of representative democracy and reduce the legitimacy of voter referenda.” He pointed out that there was already a separate “Greenlight Yes,” political campaign formed to advocate for the referendum directly.

“I appreciate the good work done by the FDOT Inspector General reviewing the operations of PSTA’s Greenlight Pinellas campaign,” Brandes said in response to the report. “I am shocked that Florida law does not require PSTA to clearly state in their campaign materials that Greenlight Pinellas is a $100 million dollar per year tax increase.”

“While they may be in technical compliance,” he added, “I believe we need to hold our public entities to a higher standard than Mardigras beads and campaign buttons when they are spending hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Next session I intend to file legislation that requires all entities that use taxpayer dollars to educate the public to be more transparent and balanced.”

FDOT  reviewed state funds available to PSTA through department grant agreements to determine if they were used in accordance with laws, rules, regulations and provisions of the grants and determined “PSTA did not use state funds to pay for the Greenlight campaign.” 

Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority CEO Brad Miller is relieved.

“We are thankful for the very thorough review by the Inspector General, and commend him and his staff for their diligence,” said Miller. “PSTA always strives to be a responsible steward of taxpayer money, whether keeping nearly 200 buses on time daily or educating Pinellas residents about their transit options. And because PSTA believes in full transparency, we will be posting the Inspector General’s final report on our own website at GreenlightPinellas.com, where anyone can view the report.”

The Inspector General’s final report, when posted, can be viewed in full at here.

Excerpts of the report are below.

On the report’s findings:

“We reviewed expenditures for the Greenlight Pinellas campaign to determine if PSTA violated the advocacy provisions of state law. Our review disclosed no evidence that PSTA Greenlight communications contained text prohibited by law. We also reviewed state funds available to PSTA through department grant agreements to determine if they were used in accordance with laws, rules, regulations and provisions of the grants. We determined PSTA did not use state funds to pay for the Greenlight campaign.” [Report 14C-6007, Page 1]

On Greenlight Pinellas expenditures:

“Our review disclosed no evidence PSTA campaign expenditures violated the advocacy provisions of state law. Communications on PSTA’s ‘Greenlight Pinellas’ website, advertisements and promotional items contained no text prohibited by law nor any ‘magic words’ which would expressly advocate for electors to vote ‘yes’ in the referendum. Orders for promotional items were reviewed and there was no evidence these items contained statutorily prohibited phrases.” [Report 14C-6007, Page 7]

On No State Funding of Greenlight Pinellas:

“We determined no state grant funding was used to finance the Greenlight campaign. PSTA requested and received direct authorization from the [Federal Transportation Authority] for the use of federal funds for Greenlight educational messaging and branding, including development of a Greenlight website.” [Report 14C-6007, Page 8]

“Based on our review, we determined PSTA did not invoice or expend [Florida Dept. of Transportation] funds to pay for the Greenlight campaign. … There is no evidence the department reimbursed PSTA for any Greenlight expenditures against any of the state grants.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.