As was reported on Monday, the Florida Commission on Ethics cleared Hillsborough Public Transportation Commission Chairman Victor Crist late last month of any conflict of interest charges last month, citing a “lack of legal sufficiency.”
The claim of an ethics violation was made by Louis Minardi, the owner of Yellow Cab Company of Tampa. Minardi obtained affidavits from representatives from three other cab companies and his own son who said that they overheard conversations with Crist in which he acknowledged his wife needs the goodwill of St. Petersburg state Senator Jeff Brandes to get state grants.
Brandes has been critical of the PTC for years. Crist’s wife Angela works at the University of South Florida as the director of the John Scott Dailey Institute of Government.
On Tuesday, Crist said the complaint was always bogus, and was intended to intimidate the rest of the PTC board to drop their support for the latest iteration of rule changes that he says he had worked tirelessly on leading up the to the agency’s June general board meeting.”It was an overstretch and inappropriate for them to make the complaints that they did because they were false and deceptive,” he said of the cab company representatives allegation. “I believe they were made not to penalize me, because they had to know that these were false accusations that wouldn’t have any muster. They did them to intimidate my board, and I think it was the final straw that did.”
But the board voted down the proposal on a 4-1 vote, with Crist the lone supporter.
“That was a shock to me,” he admits. “I knew (Guido) Mansicalso and (Ken) Hagan were supportive, and Hagan didn’t show at the meeting, and Maniscaco stayed quiet and didn’t say a word…when I looked around I was shocked. I was the only yes vote. It was clear that the the intimidation factor worked.”
When contacted on Tuesday, Maniscalco denied that the ethics complaint had anything to do with his vote opposing the rule changes. “That was just coincidence,” he says.”In my mind, it made no difference whether there was a complaint or not, I think the decision would have been made the same.”
At that June board meeting, Temple Terrace City Councilman David Pogorilich told Crist, “there’s no agreement, so there’s nothing for us to approve or disapprove.” He went on to say that, “personally, I don’t think that we should putting the PTC’s name on something just to say, ‘well, it’s less crappy than it was before. To me, that’s not compromise. That’s giving up.”
Crist says he’s hopeful that the board and the ridesharing companies will get behind two proposals on background checks for drivers that Commissioner Al Higginbotham will be presenting at the PTC meeting on Wednesday.
One of them will include a full background check for drivers – including mandatory fingerprinting , and one that doesn’t, Higginbotham says. Officials with Uber have previously said they object to fingerprinting their drivers.