The Board of Hillsborough County Commissioners on Wednesday reaffirmed that they want Sheriff David Gee’s office to conduct an investigation into the contracting out of the Go Hillsborough transportation proposal.
They also rejected a proposal by Commissioner Stacy White that would kill the county’s deal with contractor Parsons Brinckerhoff, which was suspended two weeks ago.
And they voted to hold a comprehensive review of their transportation options after the next meeting of the Policy Leadership Group taking place on November 5.
“I’ve been on this board a long time,” said Commissioner Ken Hagan. “And I’ve never seen such an intent to obfuscate an issue and intimidate an elected body,” adding that it was time to say, “enough is enough.”
Hagan said the main issue of what the county has been attempting to focus on has been lost in the media frenzy over the past month. That’s because the whole Go Hillsborough transportation proposal has been rocked after a television news report shined a light on how Parsons (and its subcontractor, Beth Leytham) was awarded the contract to provide the technical information and outreach on a transportation sale tax that would go before voters in November of 2016.
The meeting began with internal auditor Peggy Caskey giving a review of how her office had previously reviewed the Go Hillsborough procurement process, when it was declared that the state’s Consultant’s Competitive Negotiation Act (CCNA) law was the most appropriate procurement process for miscellaneous professional engineering services. That’s how Parsons initially got inside the door to ultimately lead the Go Hillsborough contract back in 2012.
She presented five different strategic options for the county in dealing with the situation. She said that if her own office conducted a thorough audit, it would not be completed until next spring. Meanwhile, Sheriff Gee’s office recommended that the county not commit to any audits until the Sheriff’s Department’s investigation was completed — a recommendation approved by the board.
Although she was initially supportive of county administrator Mike Merrill opting to use Gee’s office to investigate the Go Hillsborough effort, County Commission Chairwoman Sandy Murman had changed her tune recently, taking up the suggestion sent to her from Eastern Hillsborough County activist Sam Rashid that Gee wasn’t impartial enough to investigate the county, and that another outside agency like the FLDE might be more appropriate.
On Wednesday, however, Murman had turned around once again, saying that she felt “very satisfied” after learning that Gee had hired an outside auditor and outside legal counsel to assist in his investigation. “That to me is the answer to the questions,” she said. “I don’t know how some people perceive that, that’s up to them, but to me, those questions were answered.”
Other board members waxed enthusiastically that Gee’s office was above reproach, and any thoughts to the contrary were absurd.
Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he would have preferred for the BOCC to hire the FDLE to do the investigation, but said he’d been in recent discussions with the law enforcement agency and they had declined. “This door to the FDLE is closed,” he declared. “We need to move forward.”
Once it was clear that they would stay with the Sheriff’s Office to conduct the investigation, board member Stacy White then presented a motion calling on the county to terminate its contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff. White stated months ago that he would not support any type of transportation tax.
Beckner called the move a “knee-jerk reaction,” and said it would be “unconscionable” for the county to end its relationship with Parsons, saying that while the process that allowed them to procure the contract with the county might be in question, nobody has accused them of turning in shoddy work.
Earlier in the meeting a number of citizens went before the board to say that, in fact, not only was it time to cut the contract with Parsons Brinckerhoff, but it was now time to abort the concept of a transportation tax altogether.
“I’m asking you to scrap the Go Hllsborough plan now; the trust has been violated,” said Louise Green. “People do not want a light rail.”
Pinellas County activist Tom Rask said he was speaking in Tampa because Bob Buckhorn campaigned a year ago in his community for the failed Greenlight Pinellas plan. “I don’t know why he thinks it’s in his business to come over there to, in his words, ‘create momentum’ for himself over here,” Rask said. “Well, if you didn’t get momentum, why are you proposing a sales tax hike again?”
Conservative activist Terry Kemple suggested a whole slew of other sources of funding to alleviate the transportation issue, such as taking funds already earmarked for the BP oil settlement money, as well as ELAPP, parks and community centers.
The board also voted to oppose a Murman proposal to dissolve the Policy Leadership Group, the group focused on transportation that includes the entire BOCC, the mayors of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, and officials with HART. Instead, the board will convene a workshop to consider their transportation options following the next PLG meeting, scheduled for November 5.