Turns out, 10 News investigator Mike Deeson was right about the inappropriateness of some spending by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
In June, Deeson reported that PSTA was running ” ‘feel good ad'” residents are paying for as part of a half-million dollar Department of Homeland Security grant to PSTA.
“It’s about this general idea of making the transportation system feel more safe and secure,” PSTA Executive Director Brad Miller told reporter Mike Deeson.
Although Miller insists that is intended purpose of the ads, Deeson found both PSTA’s internal documents and the Homeland Security website saying the grant is for encouraging “transit patrons to alert authorities if they see anything suspicious” as well as “further promote public awareness of security issues related to public transportation.”
After hearing complaints from anti-transit tax activists, Deeson investigated whether the grant money was also being used to promote the Greenlight Pinellas initiative.
Several times Miller replied to each of Deeson’s inquires, “Well, Mike, that’s a good question.” “Mike, I think that’s a good question.” “Mike, I understand your question.” “Mike, it’s a good question.”
That’s what Miller kept saying as he tried justifying the feel good spots that are paid for with a half-million dollar grant and intended to stop terrorism but are actually directing viewers to the Greenlight Pinellas website.
Two days after Deeson’s report, Miller told the PSTA board that the story which aired on WTSP was inaccurate.
Miller said that there were two phases of the grant received from Homeland Security, and the television report focused on Phase One — which calls on bus passengers to alert authorities if they see anything suspicions. “However, this was not the phase that paid for the TV ads,” he said. He said a brochure was produced by PSTA out of Phase One funding.
The TV ads, he said, were paid for from Phase Two of the grant, which was for a “mass media campaign to further promote security issues related to public transportation. Which is what those ads did.”
At the same time, PSTA board chairman Ken Welch also disputed the accuracy of Deeson’s reporting.
“An accusation we know is not a fact … For those of us who have been in campaigns, this is going to happen all the way through November. There’s going to be misinformation from folks that aren’t willing to look at this fairly. They’re going to use every tactic that they have to defeat this. So we ought to be prepared for that.”
Welch also threw this elbow:
“Mr. Deeson is not alone. … Many stations have a person who specializes in finding what they call government excess. And they don’t report stories about good government.”
Well, a month later, Deeson is serving up some crow for Miller and Welch to eat:
“The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority which criticized 10 Investigates for raising questions about improperly spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money is now backpedaling. The PSTA is returning the money to the federal government.
“… After the first story by 10 Investigates, the PSTA board and Miller blasted the report for being off-base. He told the board, “And I’ve circled what the Department of Homeland Security approved the spending of those funds for.”
“But in the email to the PSTA board, Miller admits Homeland Security never approved the ads, it was threatening to demand repayment and PSTA voluntarily reimbursed the federal DHS $354,000 that funded the program.”
Welch, for his part, is unrepentant:
“Brad (Miller) still stands that they were in compliance.”
In addition to Deeson, another person proven right by Miller’s admission is Dr. David McKalip, who was first to criticize the ads:
“This money was supposed to be used to stop bus bombings instead PSTA abused it so they could promote their Pinellas Greenlight rail boondoggle.”
This writer is still voting “Yes” on the Greenlight Pinellas initiative, but stories like this won’t add many other votes to Greenlight’s column. In fact, it probably has more than one on-the-fence voter wondering questioning if Miller, Welch, et al can’t be trusted with a few hundred thousand dollars from a federal grant, how can they be trusted with an additional $100 million annually from Pinellas taxpayers?