Latino business official says David Armijo's suspension reeks of a "race war" by Tampa black leaders against Hispanics

Pina says that he first heard about Armijo's suspension from business officials in California (Armijo previously worked in Southern California).  He said that Armijo's ascent to the head of HART in 2007 was a "monumental" moment for the Latino community in Florida.

Pina says that his heart "kind of dropped" when he asked around about they "key players" involved with questioning Armijo's leadership, and firmly believes there are racial undertones to what has developed. He says if HART was led by an African-American that "absolutely, unequivocally this would not be happening."

As we originally reported, initially, most HART board members did not want to suspend Armijo.  Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman looked at Siler-Nixon at one point during Monday's meeting and said, "Who are you?"questioning how she had been hired and why was she telling her that she needed to support suspending the chairman of the transit agency with no specific evidence being introduced.

Pina made news back in 2009 when he went on a hunger strike against Bank of America if the institution would not get more involved in poor minority communities in Florida.

Pina said he is not close to Armijo but has spoken with him since the suspension was announced Monday morning.  Attorney Dawn Siler-Nixon is to bring back her findings to the HART board on April 4.

On Monday CL reported on HART CEO David Armijo being put on a two-week paid suspension by the HART board after reports surfaced of wrongdoing, as a labor attorney hired by the transit agency said it would be impossible to conduct an investigation into those allegations with Armijo still in control because employees feared retaliation.

The board voted 9-1 to follow the request of attorney Dawn Siler-Nixon, but expressed extreme reluctance to do so.  She told board members that she could not reveal the allegations brought forth because her investigation was not complete, but did say she could not do a thorough job unless Armijo was not in the building, as employees feared reprisals for speaking out. She also said she had yet to speak with Armijo about the charges being made against him.

The allegations involve hiring practices and treatment of employees, but details are still relatively sketchy.

Now adding some fire to the mix is a press release issued out by Al Pina, the chair of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition, who today issued out a provocative press release titled, Tampa African American Leaders Launch Race War Against Hispanics?

Pina writes that Armijo is one of only a "very few" Hispanic CEO's of a major public entity in all of Central Florida and the only high ranking one in Tampa.  And he says that the surprising suspension smells like a "witch hunt," not least of all, he says, because "every single principal in this 'witch hunt' was African-American." He then goes on to list six names, including HART board member Wallace Bowers, who accepted the investigations when presented to him and then handed them off to HART's legal counsel in February, as well as Siler-Nixon, an attorney with the law firm of Ford & Harrison, who was selected by HART to investigate the allegations when they surfaced in February.

But another name listed, Vanessa Cephus, the President of the Amalgamated Transit Union 1593 who was fired by HART, says Pina doesn't know what he's talking about.  In a brief e-mail, Cephus writes to CL and asks, "Since when did this situation become about race? That's new to me. I don't know if that list is even accurate."

In an interview with CL, Al Pina began by saying that "it's no secret that there's racial tension between African-Americans and Latinos," and says that tension began to bubble over the past decade when Hispanics became a larger minority than blacks in the country.

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