Thursday, February 26, 2015

CONCERNED CITIZENS OF ST. PETERSBURG STATEMENT ON NEW PIER DESIGNS

***** PRESS RELEASE *****
Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, Inc.
Contact: Gene Smith 727-385-4824
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 25, 2015
CONCERNED CITIZENS OF ST. PETERSBURG STATEMENT ON NEW PIER DESIGNS
February 24 , 2015
Concerned Citizens of St. Petersburg, the group that led the campaign to stop the Lens, has followed the New Pier design process with great interest. Our slogan has been “St. Petersburg Can Do Better”. We have consistently advocated for establishing a transparent process in choosing a new Pier. This process focuses on the desires of the residents and the recommendations of the Pier Task Force and the Working Group/City Survey. We support Mayor Kriseman’s plan to establish just such a process.  We stood with the Mayor and endorsed this process when he announced it, and we do so now. The process has worked well so far, and we are now at the point where the residents are to record their opinions regarding the remaining designs.
In this process form follows function. These functions have been identified using extensive public input to the Pier Working Group, which built on the prior conclusions of the Pier Advisory Task Force. Those conclusions, the program for the new Pier, were included by the City in their Request for Qualifications to architects. We believe this process has led to much better results than was achieved by the last process. 
We have been repeatedly asked about our thoughts on the remaining designs, and if we intend to endorse one design over another. As has been our practice throughout this entire process, we believe such an endorsement would be inappropriate. We do wish to comment on and protect the process, and how these proposals relate to the original Task Force Report. We have reviewed the designs closely. Our review criteria include

The Cronies Take Over the Transportation Initiative

The Hillsborough County transportation public engagement meetings started last week. These meetings are part of the million dollar taxpayer funded work the county awarded Parsons Brinckerhoff via a no-bid contract to come up with a county transportation plan. The meetings are being held from now to May 21 all over the county to provide the public an opportunity to participate in the process.

We will begin to report what we know, what we see and what we find out about this public engagement effort, now branded as "Go Hillsborough".  What "they" don't tell you is sometimes as important as what they are attempting to say.

First question to ask who is actually now running this initiative?  

From what we see, it is the politically well connected who all are and were closely associated to big rail supporters in the Tampa Bay area. 

We warned about the tactics of the Parsons Brinckerhoff crony mercenary force here.  We knew they'd bring in their recruitments and they did.

The taxpayers are paying for this effort but the public should know who is now actually running our transportation initiative. It is a close knit group of rail supporters.
  • Bob Clifford, former Executive Director for big rail advocate TBARTA resigned from TBARTA last May and went to work for Parsons in June. TBARTA was created in 2007 at the request of special interest Tampa Bay Partnership who is the leader of the rail cartel in the Tampa Bay area.
  • Hillsborough County awarded rail crony Parsons Brinckerhoff the million dollar no bid contract in September. There were no upfront requirements provided but the scope of work awarded Parsons Brinckerhoff by the county was titled "Transportation REFERENDUM support" even though there is NO referendum on the ballot. 
County hands Parsons Brinckerhoff a no-bid contract for work
 to support a Transportation REFERENDUM
  • Parsons Brinckerhoff coincidentally did HART's Alternatives Analysis (AA) for the 2010 rail referendum. George Walton, who is leading this effort for Parsons is the same person who led HART's Alternatives Analysis recommending high cost rail in 2010. That referendum was overwhelmingly defeated 58-42%. The county, therefore, handed the public engagement work to create a county transportation plan to the very same company (Parsons Brinckerhoff) and person (George Walton) who recommended the costly rail boondoggle in 2010. 
  • Parsons immediately subcontracted to politically well connected PR firm of Beth Leytham. Leytham is also rail cheerleader Mayor Buckhorn's campaign PR consultant. Engaging a PR firm to do public engagement violated the specific request by our county commissioners made at the August 12th Policy Leadership Group meeting to NOT hire a PR firm to do this work.  Greenlight Pinellas?
  • Mayor Buckhorn sits on the Transportation Policy Leadership Group overseeing this effort. At the May 28, 2014 Policy Leadership Group meeting last year (video/transcript found here, Mayor Buckhorn stated (about 47:40 of the video): 
Mayor Buckhorn statement at the
May 28 PLG meeting
  • Leytham conveniently branded our taxpayer funded public engagement effort "Go Hillsborough". That is the same name as the plan announced last year by the local transit lobbyist Connect Tampa Bay. Their plan proposed raising our sales tax 14%, which would be the highest in the state, a majority of which would go to transit, including high cost light rail. We note that Connect Tampa Bay has removed the link to their plan from their website. We wonder why.....
  • Leytham subcontracted website work to ad agency Chappell Roberts. Colleen Chappell, CEO of Chappell Roberts, is the Chair of Marketing and Communications for the leader of the rail cartel, Tampa Bay Partnership. Chappell is also Vice-Chair of the Economic Development Corp. (EDC). The Chappell Roberts ad agency owns the gohillsborough.org domain name NOT the county who is paying for it. What prevents Chappell Roberts from using any of the public information gathered on the website they own in the future for another advocacy campaign led by Tampa Bay Partnership? 
Local ad agency Chappell Roberts owns
the gohillsborough.org

  • The EDC's CEO Rick Homans, another big rail advocate, helped orchestrate with County Administrator Mike Merrill, the convening of the rail cartel at the very first Transportation Policy Leadership Group meeting in July 2013. Hillsborough County gives the EDC hundreds of thousands of our county tax dollars each year. 
  • Brandie Miklus, a founding member and a Director of the transit lobbyist Connect Tampa Bay who participated in their Go Hillsborough plan announcement last year, is directly involved with the public engagement meetings. At a public engagement meeting last week, Miklus was working the table where everyone signs in. A founding member of the local transit lobbyist is actively working on the public engagement effort paid for by taxpayers.
  • Miklus is also with Jacobs Engineering, another rail crony who Parson subcontracted work to. Jacobs Engineering did the Alternatives Analysis work for PSTA's Greenlight Pinellas referendum which also included a high cost rail boondoggle.
All these people working on this taxpayer funded effort on our taxpayer dime are connected to or closely associated with big rail supporters.  

How did this happen? I decided to ask that question of Bob Clifford of Parsons Brinckerhoff last week at one of the public engagement meetings. See the video clip below where Clifford merely states "we're all in the transportation industry".



Our local transportation industry is much bigger and wider than these closely associated rail cronies, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Jacobs Engineering. Hillsborough has tons of PR firms and ad agencies. Engaging all the rail cronies did not "just happen". It is intentional. But the taxpayers are paying for this....

Parsons Brinckerhoff and Jacobs Engineering worked with Tampa Bay Partnership, the leader of the Tampa Bay area rail cartel, on their Transportation Vision 20/30/40 plan. That plan includes 60 miles of rail.

Tampa Bay Partnership literally was the pro rail PAC Moving Hillsborough Forward in 2010. According to the document below creating the pro rail advocacy Moving Hillsborough Forward PAC, the affiliated or connected organization was Tampa Bay Partnership.  
Tampa Bay Partnership = Moving Hillsborough Forward
Stuart Rogel, former Chair of the Tampa Bay Partnership was the Treasurer for the pro rail PAC supporting Greenlight Pinellas last year. The Partnership provided all the administrative support for both pro rail PACs, providing tens of thousands of dollars of in-kind donations to both pro rail PACs.

Is this "Pay to Play"? Follow the money:
  • Parsons Brinckerhoff gave $50K to the Greenlight Pinellas pro rail PAC last year and $40K to Moving Hillsborough Forward pro rail PAC in 2010. 
  • Parsons Brinckerhoff did HART's Alternatives Analysis for the 2010 referendum at a cost to taxpayers of $1.5 million that recommended high cost light rail.
  • According to the Tampa Bay Partnership "Investors" page, Chappell Roberts gives $50K, Hillsborough County gives $50K (of our tax dollars) and Parsons Brinckerhoff gives $10K to the Partnership.
  • Parsons, Leytham and Chappell all donate to many of the county commission campaigns according to the SOE website.
  • Jacobs Engineering gave $25K to Greenlight Pinellas through a PAC. They did PSTA's Alternative Analysis at a cost of $4 million to taxpayers that recommended high cost light rail for Greenlight Pinellas.
These people are all working together on our taxpayer dime on an effort to create a county transportation plan. 

We suspected this effort could end up something such as this when we reported here and here about the rail cartel groupies being invited to the very first Policy Leadership Group meeting back in July 2013. We stated at that time:
We'll be watching the orchestration and collaboration going on around the transportation issue between taxpayer funded agencies, special interests and elected representatives.
The Parsons Brinckerhoff mercenary force is blatant cronyism and why this effort is wastefully costing taxpayers so much money. The rail cronies are tone-deaf to their own cronyism. 

It appears the county is also tone-deaf to this cronyism. The county enabled it by handing Parsons Brinckerhoff the no-bid contract.

The reality is the rail cartel is now running our transportation initiative - literally from the inside - using our tax dollars.  

Some will call that stacking the deck.

Some will call that unethical.

Some will call that cronyism.

Some may even call that corruption.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday February 23, 2015 Is a Gas Tax to fund PSTA a good idea?

Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD

Last week, Commissioner Ken Welch, who seems to have never met an opportunity raise a tax for PSTA he didn't like, proposed the County add a 5 cent gas tax which would produce between 16 and 17 million dollars. A portion of the revenue, 3 to 4 million dollars would go to PSTA, the rest going to the transportation trust fund for road and infrastructure improvements.

Since gas prices have been dropping, politicians all over the Country have been eyeing gas taxes as a way to raise revenue. They haven't seemed to notice gas prices are going back up.

Problem is lower gas prices are not a given, and we have already seen what a drag on the economy fuel prices can be. As gas prices start to rise again the thought of adding 5 cents to the price of a gallon of gas for any reason seems a bit impractical.

The problem is the additional gas tax revenue that would actually find its way to PSTA is really quite small compared to the looming budget deficits that PSTA has recently predicted.

Therein lays the problem. Can the public trust the PSTA Administration with their gloom and doom predictions and the PSTA Board?

The PSTA Board has not made a single change in management since the GreenLight defeat. I am not sure how much confidence the public will have in PSTA and its Board until the Board steps up and makes some significant changes.

I for one am not in favor a single dollar more of tax payer money being sent to PSTA until the Board of mostly elected officials has the backbone to replace the CEO, and give a new CEO the authority to build a new senior staff to run PSTA in a professional and ethical manner.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Mayor, City Council and the Rays



Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb

Thursday's St. Pete City Council workshop to discuss a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays seemed to go really well. You can read all of the details on saintpetersblog in Janelle Irwin's Post: St. Pete City Council to independently evaluate Rays Economic development.

Everything seemed pretty cordial, given the fact that Mayor Kriseman had sent a letter to staff and employees indicating they should not do anything to support the workshop, until Council member Wengay Newton questioned City Attorney John Wolfe as to his ability to give the Council direction given the Mayor's order.

 Mr. Wolf made it crystal clear he does not report to the Mayor and the office of the City Attorney serves both the Mayor and City Council equally.

I was with the City about 28 years and I can't recall any time where a strong Mayor directed staff not to support a City Council effort.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sunday February 15, 2015 The St. Pete Pier - Information Overload and General lack of interest



Opinion by: E. Eugene Webb, PhD

There seems to be a general conclusion that this week's two day meeting marathon on the Pier was a major information overload for the public.

Here is a rundown of local media comments:



No doubt that as the various proposers tried to cover all the bases for the committee, the public got lost in the weeds.

Probably most disturbing is the general perception, as reported in the media, that some of the public thinks the City should start over yet again.

I feel that comes from a basically wrong approach to planning the new pier.

Looking at the designs it appears the architects and engineers started with producing an "iconic" design and are now trying to figure out how to make it functional and cost effective. In other words, they put form over function, pretty pictures over reality which is exactly what the public indicated they did not want.

A much better approach would have been to come up with a highly functional, more than likely less visually exciting design and then spend the follow on effort making it more visually impressive.

The really big trap for the Kriseman administration is to get a ranking from the public and the Committee only to find out after adding the needed functionality, what is being proposed by the first place contractor is way outside the budget.  They are then faced with falling back to the next in

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Tribune are still in denial

The Tribune editorial board is at it again in rail cheerleading mode, only this time they are starting early with the attacks on the skeptics.
The usual naysayers are attacking an outreach program seeking Hillsborough residents’ views on transportation.

But citizens should be glad that “Go Hillsborough” is seeking their ideas and concerns as county leaders try to formulate a comprehensive transportation plan.
With more than 36 workshops scheduled, residents will have plenty of opportunities to voice their opinions.

Yet some are already deriding the process. Part of the opposition comes from those who oppose any effort to expand mass transit, particularly adding rail. The cost-benefits of any transit system needs to be thoroughly vetted, but the idea that urban counties in Florida, now the third-largest state in the nation, can continue to rely exclusively on more road building seems preposterous to us.
What seems preposterous to us is the Tribune cannot understand the will of the people. We shall remind them of the transit referendum slaughters they and their supporters forced on us:
  • Hillsborough 2010: 58% - 42% Referendum defeated
  • Polk 2010: 62% - 38% Referendum defeated
  • Pinellas 2014: 68% - 32% Referendum defeated
  • Polk 2014: 72% - 28% Referendum defeated
  • Alachua 2014: 60% - 40% Referendum defeated
The "naysayers" that will pay for this have made their position well known. In every referendum in the areas since 2010 with substantial elements of transit or rail, the "naysayers" have resoundingly said NO!

In the upside down world of the big money and transportation politics, the proponents continue to lose, and revert to name calling, yet the "naysayers" understand reality and continue to win.

But the Tribune refuses to listen.  

They are transit denialists.

Realists understand that vast majority of people will not take transit, so they do not want to pay for something they will not benefit from.

Realists understand that Hillsborough has immediate needs in transportation solutions, but we cannot afford to wait 10 years or more for billion dollar rail solutions that few will ride.

Realists understand that the vast majority of residents use our roads every day, and Hillsborough County has avoided investing in roads.

Realists understand Hillsborough County blew the CIT tax, which had a substantial component for roads, only to be mismanaged to the point where there is no money for roads.

Realists understand that spending billions on transit and rail solutions on the promise of "build it and they will come" is political fairy dust.

Realists understand that Hillsborough County is expected to grow by 600,000 new residents by 2040, independent of transit and rail plans, and the vast majority of them will never ride transit.

Realists understand that rail goes where rail goes, not where people go.

Realists understand people will only change their transportation habits if its cheaper, faster, more convenient.

Realists understand math.

Fix Our Roads First!
Realists understand that we need to Fix our Roads First!

The Tribune states
[The Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group] has hired Parsons Brinckerhoff, an engineering firm with transportation expertise, to help develop the plan after collaborating with the public. The company has compiled the pertinent information on local transportation needs and costs, so citizens will have the details they need to evaluate proposals.
Realists understand the Parsons Brinckerhoff is a reliable rail supporter.  So reliable, they are willing to engage in corrupt practices, as they've been at the heart of many of the largest public works boondogles, and been fined for corrupt and irresponsible business practices.  Just a few samples

Big Dig Management Consultant and Designers To Pay $450 Million  For PB's role in over $12 billion in cost overruns and shoddy construction on Bostons Big Dig.

Taken for a Ride?  The main consultants for Mecklenburg's light rail system are big, powerful companies. They also have a notorious history of scandal, massive cost overruns, engineering snafus and deceiving the public.

Seattle Area Big Dig: Brought to Us by Parsons Brinckerhoff  Even the DailyKos questions the wisdom of hiring PB.

EyeOnTampaBay has also published several posts on the questionable engagement of Parsons Brinckerhoff locally.

Realists understand Parsons Brinckerhoff is an unreliable partner.

To reiterate one of the recurring points the Tribune and rail proponents repeatedly make, 
The Go Hillsborough outreach is part of the Transportation for Economic Development Policy Leadership Group’s effort to develop a transportation plan that will meet residents’ needs and sustain the community’s economic growth.
What they are saying is they need to spend this money... billions, with billions going to rail solutions, which only rail for some magical reasons can spur economic development, and our economy will take off and jobs aplenty!

The New York money center bank Citigroup, already a powerhouse employer in this market, is considering a plan to add up to 1,163 jobs averaging a hefty $75,000 and $90 million in capital investment at its Sabal Park campus near Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County.
It's not a done deal. Citigroup has other locations where it could place such high-paying jobs, which involve work in accounting, legal, human resources and operational support. The deal here depends on whether state and local authorities can agree on an incentive package of just under $15 million — and whether Citigroup finds a better deal elsewhere.
...

The boost in Citigroup jobs — in number and average pay — is big even amid Hillsborough's recent robust run of job recruiting coups. The last financial deal of this magnitude was the agreement with financial services firm USAA, announced in late 2013, to add up to 1,215 jobs by 2019 and build a 420,000-square-foot facility in Brandon to accommodate its expansion. Those jobs, in contrast to those planned by Citigroup, pay an average of $47,581.
No, it's not a done deal. Hopefully it will be. And it may cost $15 million in tax incentives and breaks to get those jobs.

But its worth it.

Realists understand that $15 million for over 1100 high paying jobs by 2016 is a better deal than spending billions on rail and some jobs that may materialize in 10 or 20 years from now.

Only denialists don't understand that math.

Friday, February 13, 2015

GoHillsborough enabling lies and insults

Hillsborough's grand planning for transportation or transit, whatever, since the Tribune has continuing difficulty with their headlines and difference between the two, has started the next phase with announcement of GoHillsborough.

From the new GoHillsborough web site
Our community is facing some tough choices related to the very complex issue of transportation. Quite simply, we are experiencing significant shortfalls in funding just as our population is expanding and our congestion is rapidly increasing, putting greater pressure on our already declining transportation system. The reality is that unless we come together and deal with this right away, our quality of life — our time with friends and family– and our economic stability are threatened.
Lots of platitudes with the right attitude.  But threatened?

They're doing the social out reach thing across multiple channels, including public meetings, "voices", then "choices", etc. As if they've not heard it before, wandering around Hillsborough County, listening to voices and their choices, same as the last decade.

GoHillsborough also has the social outreach side, as they have a Facebook page, Twitter and YouTube channel.  Just like EyeOnTampaBay!

Then there's this from the Tribune February 13th.
Hillsborough County officials took action Thursday to make sure any public comments arising out of upcoming meetings on transportation improvements remain open to the public as well as civil.
...

Because the stakes are so high, debate arising out of the upcoming public outreach effort is sure to be highly charged, county officials say, and some commentary on county Facebook and Twitter sites could be offensive.

We will be looking at any inappropriate comments,” said George Walton, senior vice president for the county’s consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff. “We may have to take them off, but they will still be available if you want to dig them out.”
Emphasis mine. Looks like they have yet to kick in the moderation on the Facebook site.

February 7 post spreading lies and misinformation about NoTaxForTracks
This seems to violate the "courteous, respectful and appropriate" comments from the GoHillsborough Rules of Engagement.  Walter John Slupecki, behind the moniker "No Tax For Tracks Hillsborough Truth Page", never counters with any substantial argument or defends his position.  This post also violates GoHillsborough's Rules of Engagement to "Identify Yourself" with first and last name.

February 7 comment slamming the Governor
Not quite up to the GoHillsborough standard of respectful and polite with regards to our Governor, yet they still keep this obviously derogatory comment despite the warning from the GoHillsborugh moderator.

Then there's this:

Feb 8 comment about Tea Party out to destroy Tampa Bay
Again, on February 8, more lies spread about the Tea Party, which has never stated anything about "Defund, Slash, Privatize agenda".

We reached out to Beth Leytham, who is subcontracted out by PB to run the social outreach and marketing and PR campaign, something the BOCC specifically stated they did NOT want. She responded that we can reply back and engage on the Facebook site, though she indicated she did note our concerns.

Is the site to collect feedback ... "Voices" and "Choices" on transportation solutions, or to post lies about others, and then counter their accusations?

Recall George Walton of PB stated they “will be looking at any inappropriate comments. We may have to take them off."

These posts are now 5 to 6 days old.  How bad do the comments have to get?

Hillsborough County does not even own the GoHillsborough.org web site, but you paid for it.

The domain name is registered to a local ad agency Chappell Roberts. Why does an ad agency own the url? The CEO of Chappell Roberts is the marketing and communications executive board member of the big rail advocate Tampa Bay Partnership. There are NONE of the disclaimers on the website that is normally on a website owned by a taxpayer funded entity or government. Does this provide a way to skirt our Sunshine laws? Who owns the data? Is the data gathered and content on this website subject to public access rules? The county is paying a million taxpayer dollars for this effort so why doesn't the county own the domain name? Does the county own all the data associated with this effort? Shouldn't this effort paid for by taxpayers be totally transparent to the public? If so, where are the disclaimers that state the information/data gathered on the website is public information? 

We've asked County Commissioners and staff these questions but have yet to receive any answers.

Similarly, what are the implications for the Facebook page?

You paid for this.  Your tax dollars at work.  Nearly $1 million dollars.

Where is the oversight?

They just started engaging the public and are already out of control.