Lawsuit challenging PSTA’s “educational” spending ahead of light rail initiative dismissed

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A lawsuit which challenged spending by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority ahead of next year’s expected tax-for-transportation referendum was dismissed with prejudice on Friday.

Thomas Rask of Seminole sought to block a $300,000 contract awarded to Tucker/Hall Inc. by the PSTA board to provide “public transportation educational messaging and branding.” But Judge Anthony Rondolino ruled that Rask lacked standing.

“The general principle,” Rondolino wrote in his ruling, “is that taxpayers must act by and through their authorized public officers to institute proceedings that question the appropriateness of an agency’s acts.” In other words, regardless of the merits of Rask’s legal arguments, a citizen suing a government agency because that citizen does not like how that agency decided to spend its money is not the proper channel to register said disapproval.

That’s what elections are for, Rondolino could have very well written.

In his original complaint, Rask alleged that PSTA’s Request for Proposal for a vendor to provide “educational messaging,” included instructions that “materials will be required to pursue the successful approval of a countywide referendum” and a requirement to “identify specific strategies to lead to successful 2013 referendum.”

Rask contended in his complaint that “to PSTA, ‘success’ clearly means passage (not defeat) of a referendum to increase the sales tax by 1 percent. ‘ Success’ would also result in a net increase in public funds flowing to PSTA and thus be in the interest of PSTA.”

Judge Rondolino, while mindful of the appearance his ruling might give to citizens who have legitimate interests in insuring that government agencies and official spend tax dollars appropriately, cited a Florida Supreme Court ruling that rules on standing “represent … a reasonable effort to guarantee that state and counties lawfully exercie their taxing and spending authority without unduly hampering the normal operations of a representative democratic government.”

You just can’t have every taxpayer suing City Hall because they don’t like money being spent on this pothole or that road, is what the Supreme Court essentially said.

Rask also complained that a contract with law firm Gray-Robinson to advocate PSTA’s legislative agenda in Tallahassee also is illegal because it is paid for with taxpayer money.

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.