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Hillsborough Sheriffs Office to media: We’ll tell you when Go Hillsborough investigation is done

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

With a half-cent sales tax for transportation at stake potentially this fall, there is a great deal of anticipation about the results of an investigation regarding the Go Hillsborough transportation plan.

Since last September, the Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office has been looking into allegations of improprieties in the hiring of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to the lead in the effort. One of those allegations was that Parsons was hired based on the advocacy of public relations consultant Beth Leytham, who was later hired by the group to handle communications.

Hillsborough County Commissioners are the group that will ultimately either approve or reject putting the proposal into a referendum this fall for voters to decide upon. The plan as currently called for 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. But County officials are holding off on a vote in part until the investigative report comes in.

That’s led to wildly inaccurate predictions about when that report would be done, with the first offender being County Administrator Mike Merrill, who told reporters last fall that it would be done by Christmas.

When that didn’t happen, the the Tampa Tribune reported in late December that the report would be published in mid-January.

When that didn’t happen, the Trib’s beat reporter on all things Hillsborough County, Mike Salinero, said on WEDU’s Florida This Week in on January 22 that the report  “should be coming out in the next week.”

This reporter was told by a source on February 26 that the report was scheduled to come out later that day.

And last Saturday, Salinero reported on the fact that the report still wasn’t out.

It’s still not.

On Tuesday, the Sheriffs Office, apparently weary of such false sightings, informed the press that they should stop speculating, and simply wait for the investigation to take its course.

“Due to the continued false rumors that the GoHillsborough investigation has been completed, we continue receiving a high number of media inquires to verify the status of the investigation,” wrote Public Information Office Larry McKinnon. “We again want to assure you, as we have since the beginning of this investigation, that once the investigation is
completed, which includes a thorough review by the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office, we will send out a press release.”

The Go Hillsborough effort was a two-year study to look at the transportation needs of the county, with the idea always being possible that the funding needed to pay for those projects would come from a referendum. A similar transportation tax was soundly defeated in Hillsborough in 2010, as was another plan in Pinellas County in 2014. Local officials say they needed to get this right in order for the public to finally approve such a tax.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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