Who is promoting Hillsborough's gravy train?


We already know the faces of the elected officials promoting this project but there is really no way of knowing who is or will be financially backing this effort for the proposed tax since evidently that motion of the BOCC's really does cloak the backers (at least for now). But a review of some of these potential players might provide some clues. Certainly not a crime to support a candidate or push a referendum question but it would be nice for us to see who is forking over what and if they stand to benefit financially from the deal and what their past track records indicate.


If HDR doesn't sound familiar to you then let me refresh your memory. It is the same HDR responsible for bringing you the design for the cracking reservoir and telling us citizens a tall tale regarding the PD and E study on Lithia Pinecrest. They routinely get millions of taxpayer dollars in contracts from the County usually buried in the Consent Agenda. Recently Commissioner Kevin Beckner questioned these contracts considering HDR is currently being sued by Tampa Bay Water (let's not forget they said the only computer model of the reservoir design was only on one laptop that  was stolen from the engineer's car)! Uh-huh, now some other poor unsuspecting county could get stuck with a leaky reservoir if those design plans end up on the black market!  But the bigger question is why would we continue to use this company for anything? Shouldn't be surprising on a board that doesn't have enough votes to sue the Pimpin Commish for our $500,000 back for his sex suit or enough votes to investigate County Administer Pat Bean for giving herself a raise against policy and with no paper trail. (Thank goodness our own CL contributor George Niemann has filed ethics complaints against both of them as well.)


I asked Mr. David Armijo of HART what HDR got paid to do this study via a public records request and at the time this post was submitted I am still waiting to hear back (he must be working hard to get that raise he wants). Recall bus service would be a major recipient of the 14% sales tax increase for "rail."


Let's take a look at some of the past patterns of these transit players shall we? According to this article HDR is responsible for big time contributions to Seattle's Mayor (even though they are based out of Nebraska) in fact, they were his biggest supporter! They also contributed to promoting transportation projects that just happened to be pet projects of that Mayor. Did I mention that Mayor Nickels became the Chair of the Transit Board which approved millions of dollars in contracts to HDR?  And then there is  this article regarding a Mayor in Hawaii and PB titled Mayor's backers get big rail jobs. They hauled in a fortune in contracts. And yes, it looks like they supported the rail effort in Charlotte. Take a look at this past CL piece from Charlotte regarding PB and their history of scandals including the Big Dig, a 22 billion dollar construction project with a very dark past. Here is an excerpt from that CL article:


The two design, construction and engineering firms, Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Parsons Transportation Corp., and their smaller business units are directly responsible for projects widely regarded as the biggest transit debacles in the nation's history. Both have stark histories of deceiving the public and government officials about the true costs of transit projects, and then benefiting directly from project cost overruns.


These histories are alarming enough to call into question every figure, fact and cost estimate ever given to the voters and elected officials of Charlotte-Mecklenburg by these companies. And it's enough to make one wonder why the Metropolitan Transit Commission and Charlotte City Council approved consultant contracts with them in the first place.


One  author calls the Big Dig America's greatest highway robbery. So PB has their own dirty laundry of past wrongdoings rivaling or even topping HDR's. Are these some of the players who will be paying for the cheerleader outfits for those promoting rail? Stay tuned it sounds like at some point the cloak has to come off and there is bound to be more information surfacing regarding this tax to help developers pay for roads I mean "transit" tax.


A quick search of the Hillsborough Supervisor of Elections site reveals that HDR has contributed to Commissioner Ken Half Truth Hagan (Chair of the Transportation Task Force), Mayor Pam Iorio (rail's biggest cheerleader) Commissioner Mark Sharpe (rail's second biggest cheerleader) and City Councilman John Dingfelder who is now running for County Commission. So I wonder if this is what Commissioner Higginbotham meant when he was worried about the transparency regarding who would be promoting this rail effort? Note to HDR: You probably should have contributed to Higginbotham! Oh and Parsons Brinckerhoff? The contributed to Mayor Iorio back in 2003 and most recently there was just a Parsons listed in May of 2009 as contributing to Commissioner Ken Hagan. Again not a crime, just interesting kids.



One of the major arguments of rail proponents is that we can't continue the way we are going but the problem is so far they haven't offered any real changes (except sending more of the bill to taxpayers). I would support rail it in hopes of promoting smart growth if our elected officials changed their ways and did this right but not without 1. Raising impact fees to developers 2. Providing an ironclad growth plan and 3. No further subsidies to entice developers. Otherwise this is just more developer welfare funded by taxpayers not to mention the potential for paybacks for those companies pushing this idea. Put the financial backers out in the Florida Sunshine for all to see and give us all the facts including the costs of this before you ask voters to decide.


Photo Credit: informatique @Flickr.com

I hate to derail this vision of a choo choo in Hillsborough before the tracks are even subsidized but somebody besides the anti-rail crowd has to ask the tough questions. The MSM sure don't seem to be asking many.

Peeling another layer off this proposed tax to help developers pay for roads pay for rail is disturbing. Recall my earlier concerns that this 1% sales tax (which is a 14% increase)  for "rail" was going in part to fund road widening projects that were already supposed to be paid for by developers. Our county government do something that sneaky, something that dirty, something that underhanded? We are in Hillsborough.

That gravy train list of "non-transit" projects to be funded by the proposed tax not only included one very controversial and not yet approved project, it also contained six roads already on the books to be widened by developers for their DRI approvals. DRI stands for development of regional impact or in simpler terms a big ass subdivision. Here is the stinky part: all six of them are from the same developer, Newland Communities. Of the six road projects, two are associated with Lake Hutto, two with Southbend and two with Waterset and all of these are from Newland! In case that doesn't smell bad enough for you, one of the members of the Transportation Task Force (TTF) [ the group that came up with the non-rail gravy train list of recommendations for the referendum] is none other than Scott Jones, Vice President of Operations-you can see this one coming can't you........of Newland Communities! Yes, as a matter of fact, County Center always has that fishy smell.

Terry Flott, Chair of U-CAN, brought up this little detail (about the six DRIs) during public comment at the last BOCC meeting and when the board had the discussion on the referendum for more developer welfare oops I mean "rail", Commissioner Kevin Beckner asked staff member Lucia Garsys about it. She tried, quite unconvincingly I might add, to assure Beckner that developers would still have to pay their share. It just begs the question though: if developers are still to be held to their agreements then why put these projects on a list you are asking taxpayers to fund via a NEW TAX in the first place? And when pressed about the DRIs she relayed this to Beckner on the record: (my thoughts are in red)

>>LUCIA GARSYS: THE DEVELOPER PROJECTS WITHOUT THE —

GETTING TOO FAR IN THE WEEDS, DEVELOPER PROJECTS OFTENTIMES

PROVIDE MORE CAPACITY THAN THAT PROJECT CONSUMES, SO THE

BALANCE OF THAT IS PROVIDED IN IMPACT FEE CREDITS. (They get impact fee credits? If they "oftentimes provide more capacity" than needed then why are we billions behind in roads? Looks to me like just another form of developer welfare via the back door!)

Recall the current meager impact fees developers do pay puts taxpayers in the hole over $11,000 with every new rooftop that the Gang of Four approves. Yes, I told you it always smells that bad when you start sniffing around Hillsborough County government.

Also raising an eyebrow was the issue that Commissioner Higginbotham brought up about transparency during the rail discussion. The St. Petersburg Times mentions those shadows with this article. Higginbotham's exchange during that meeting with County attorney Renee Lee (who CL contributor George Niemann has filed an ethic complaint against) is below:

AGAIN, IF WE'RE GOING TO DO THIS, WE NEED TO BE OPEN, WE

NEED TO BE TRANSPARENT, AND UNLESS THE COUNSELOR HAS

CHANGED HER MIND SINCE YESTERDAY MORNING, THE RESOLUTION OF

INTENT PROVIDES THAT CLOAK OF SECRECY AND DOES NOT ALLOW

THE PUBLIC TO SEE WHO WILL SUPPORT FINANCIALLY THIS EFFORT.

>>RENEE LEE: COMMISSIONER, THE RESOLUTION OF INTENT

EXPRESSES TO THE PUBLIC THAT IT'S THE INTENTION OF THE

BOARD TO PUT THE REFERENDUM ON THE BALLOT IN 2010.

>>AL HIGGINBOTHAM: RIGHT.

BUT MY QUESTION ASKED YESTERDAY, YES OR NO.

>>RENEE LEE: IT DOES NOT BECOME AN ISSUE UNDER THE

ELECTION LAW UNTIL THE BOARD PASSES THAT FORMAL LANGUAGE.

>>AL HIGGINBOTHAM: RIGHT.

>>RENEE LEE: SO THAT THERE ARE — THERE ARE ORGANIZATIONS

OR PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO MIGHT WANT TO SUPPORT THIS WHO HAVE

NO REPORTING REQUIREMENTS AT THIS TIME. (like who I wonder......maybe people or companies that stand to make a lot of money in county contracts if this is approved? And why not just word the motion differently to eliminate this? I don't often get a chance to say this but it looks like Higginbotham was right on the money!)

A Daily Loaf reader brought to my attention that PB and HDR could be some of the silent backers of this proposal (Hat tip to David Boyett of Lithia for all the research he provided for this post) and also mentioned that HDR is responsible for doing a recent study with HART. Hmmmm, combine that with the fact that according to this article Mayor Iorio feels it is time for HART to take the lead on this plus the suggestion in that same article that says that HART will run the mass transit network and things start to take shape. According to this article PB Americas (who also seem to be know as Parsons Brinckerhoff) is also already involved in a study with HART on rail that looks like it is costing at least 2 million! Uh-huh, just wait and we will take a look at both HDR and PB and it isn't pretty.

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