‘Greenlight Yes’ campaign for transit tax off to bumpy start

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Right out of the box, the push to impose a $130 million dollar sales tax on Pinellas County residents and tourists is off to a bumpy start.

Ronnie Duncan, who is one of the co-chairs of the ‘Greenlight Yes’ committee, is being criticized by the Tampa Tribune editorial board for a conflict of interest related to his role as chairman of the Tampa Bay Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA).

Duncan told the Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell that he consulted TBARTA’s attorney and was told he can be on the steering committee for the privately funded Greenlight campaign, known as Yes Greenlight, as long as he makes it clear he is doing so as a private citizen and not in his capacity as TBARTA chair. 

But that’s an impossibility. His legal cover doesn’t eliminate the appearance of a conflict. He wants to be the chair of a public transportation agency while raising money to influence the Greenlight outcome at the polls. 

State law prohibits public agencies from funding advocacy campaigns, and we take Duncan at his word that he would stay within the law. 

Still, he’s not doing Greenlight or TBARTA any favors by asking the public to trust him.

Members of the conservative group Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation (COST) sent a letter on Monday to the Board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authorit, and Governor Scott criticizing Duncan for leading the Greenlight advocacy campaign and calling for his resignation from TBARTA.

COST spokeswoman Sharon Calvert, who also is the founder of the Tampa Tea Party, said Duncan’s dual roles are unethical, reported Anna Phillips of the Tampa Bay Times.

“Your public political advocacy while holding this influential leadership position on the TBARTA board seriously undermines the credibility of TBARTA,” she wrote in the letter,

There is no conflict of interest in this matter, TBARTA lawyer Don Conn wrote in a message to the agency’s board. He added: “TBARTA is not and cannot be involved in the Greenlight campaign.” But if the chairman of TBARTA is the Chairman of GreenLight Yes, doesn’t that sound a little like legal double speak?

You can bet at every meeting where Duncan speaks in support of GreenLight Pinellas and asks for donations, he will be introduced as the chairman of TBARTA. When he calls for appointments with influential business leaders, he will be viewed as the chairmen of TBARTA. There is just no getting around this.

If Greenlight Yes is to establish credibility with the voters, Duncan either needs to be replaced as co-chair or he needs to resign from TBARTA.