A suggestion by board member Kathleen Shanahan about sending local newspapers a letter-to-the-editor or op-ed listing the goals and agenda of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit agency prompted a larger debate Monday.
“I continue to believe that this organization should be the platform of leadership for transportation, both policy as well as opportunity for implementation for this region,” Shanahan said, adding that there’s considerable interest in the business community about what HART is doing vis-á-vis transportation currently.
Shanahan, the chairman and CEO of URETEK Holdings, said there’s a lot of “pent-up energy” in the Tampa Bay business community regarding transportation. Much of that energy is being held in reserve awaiting a decision by the Hillsborough County Commission on whether or not to put a half-cent sales tax on the 2016 ballot. If passed the tax would raise $117 million a year to finance more than 400 projects, including new roads and road resurfacing, bike and walking trails, expanded bus service, and a pilot commuter rail in Tampa.
“If they don’t see a platform of leadership, then they’ll create another one. That’s just the way business people do it,” Shanahan said.
She contended she wasn’t advocating that that’s the case, but called on HART Board Chairman Mike Suarez to contemplate how HART could become more effective, particularly in advocating to the community what it does and what it hopes to do in the immediate future.
Suarez acknowledged a disconnect in some cases about what HART is doing and how the public perceives it. He suggested a public hearing where the executive committee from HART could meet with local business leaders to discuss the agency’s agenda.
“Our connectivity to other communities is not as good as it should be,” added board member Sandy Murman, who has been echoing similar comments about the function of HART since she joined the board few years ago. Murman suggested that before an op-ed is penned that HART’s Legislative and Strategic Planning Committee should meet to discuss the agency’s priorities for the new year. “I’m not sure we’re all on the same page … right now.”
Murman then added that HART is hamstrung by its restraints on funding sources. “It’s hard to be a leader when you’re dependent on other government agencies to give you funding,” she said. HART’s funding comes from property taxes and the federal government for the most part.
Shanahan agreed but added that there are significant private-public partnerships in transportation that are occurring across the country and around the world. “We’re a booming state. There’s a lot of things you can do if you’re positioned as a leader in the conversation,” she said, adding that’s not how HART is perceived in terms of making transportation services across the regional landscape more efficient.
In other board news, Suarez was unanimously voted once again to be HART’s chairman. It’s the third and final time for the Tampa City councilman because of term limits. Karen Jaroch was voted to remain as vice chairwoman, and Murman was similarly re-elected as HART board secretary.