Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

Commissioner abruptly quits Hillsborough transportation agency

TAMPA — With its executive director retiring under pressure, its authority being challenged in court and legislators talking about killing it outright, you might think the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission couldn't get any more dramatic.

Think again.

The PTC's board Wednesday took steps to stabilize the agency, which regulates taxicab, limousine and ambulance companies, but not before Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller unexpectedly quit over what he later described as the "dictatorial" way fellow County Commissioner Victor Crist, who serves as chairman, runs the meetings.

"He is overbearing," Miller said. Crist has good ideas about improving the PTC, Miller said, but "there's certain things that are going on with the agenda that are causing some mass confusion at our meetings. ... I try to make comments. I'm shut down by the chair. I don't think that's proper."

Crist responded that Miller seemed to be trying to force the PTC board to consider changes to the agenda in a way that could have bogged down proceedings and prevented the board from completing its business. Crist also said he doesn't believe he's the problem, because Miller has been "challenging" at County Commission meetings, too.

"Why is he the same way in a commission meeting where I'm not running the meeting?" Crist asked.

Miller's resignation followed a tit-for-tat argument over the organization of the agenda, including whether a controversial matter voted upon at a previous meeting would be revisited Wednesday. At different points, each man pointed to different sections of Robert's Rules of Order on how to proceed.

"If ... you look at the duties and the responsibilities of the chair, you'll see that the chair sets the agenda and the board approves it," Crist said at one point. "I set the agenda. The board has not approved it yet."

Because the agency's former executive director and his now-departed administrative assistant are gone, other PTC staff were putting together Wednesday's agenda along with doing their regular jobs, with some changes being made after business hours Tuesday.

"I did not receive an updated agenda until I walked in today," Miller said. He also said "there is nothing on this agenda that says we have to adopt this agenda. So that is incorrect, what you just said, Mr. Chairman."

Those disagreements aside, the board did decide to:

• Bring in Kevin Jackson, Hillsborough County's chief consumer protection investigator, to serve as interim director, replacing Cesar Padilla, who retired last month after questions were raised about him moonlighting on PTC time as a security guard. While interim director, Jackson will be paid the same salary as Padilla, slightly more than $107,000 a year.

• Name a committee to begin searching for a permanent director. Jackson will not be a candidate for that job.

• Agree to have county internal auditor Michelle Leonhardt assess the PTC to identify areas of risk and critical concern that could be subjects of future audits.

The goal, Crist said, is for the PTC to "have our house in order" before the next Legislative session, when lawmakers say they might consider bills to revoke its charter.

That way, he said, the only question legislators should have to consider is whether such an agency should exist, not whether they need to do something about its internal operations.

Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who heads the state Senate Transportation Committee, and Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, said last month they plan to do something during the session to address complaints and concerns about the PTC.

That announcement followed the disclosure that Padilla, who had been director since 2007, was under increasing scrutiny for working as a security guard, including on days that payroll records indicated he was either sick or working for the PTC.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that on at least 10 occasions, Padilla, 59, had done security shifts at an auction house while county records showed he had reported working or being out sick. He made about $10,400 for security work during that time at an hourly rate of $28.

The county has also agreed to temporarily assign an administrative assistant to the PTC. The PTC's administrative aide quit on Friday.

Miller said his resignation was effective immediately and would notify the County Commission so it could discuss appointing a replacement. The PTC's board includes three county commissioners, two Tampa City Council members, one Temple Terrace council member and one Plant City commissioner.

TAMPA — With its executive director retiring under pressure, its authority being challenged in court and legislators talking about killing it outright, you might think the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission couldn't get any more dramatic.

Think again.

The PTC's board Wednesday took steps to stabilize the agency, which regulates taxicab, limousine and ambulance companies, but not before Hillsborough County Commissioner Les Miller unexpectedly quit over what he later described as the "dictatorial" way fellow County Commissioner Victor Crist, who serves as chairman, runs the meetings.

"He is overbearing," Miller said. Crist has good ideas about improving the PTC, Miller said, but "there's certain things that are going on with the agenda that are causing some mass confusion at our meetings. … I try to make comments. I'm shut down by the chair. I don't think that's proper."

Crist responded that Miller seemed to be trying to force the PTC board to consider changes to the agenda in a way that could have bogged down proceedings and prevented the board from completing its business. Crist also said he doesn't believe he's the problem, because Miller has been "challenging" at County Commission meetings, too.

"Why is he the same way in a commission meeting where I'm not running the meeting?" Crist asked.

Miller's resignation followed a tit-for-tat argument over the organization of the agenda, including whether a controversial matter voted upon at a previous meeting would be revisited Wednesday. At different points, each man pointed to different sections of Robert's Rules of Order on how to proceed.

"If … you look at the duties and the responsibilities of the chair, you'll see that the chair sets the agenda and the board approves it," Crist said at one point. "I set the agenda. The board has not approved it yet."

Because the agency's former executive director and his now-departed administrative assistant are gone, other PTC staffers were putting together Wednesday's agenda along with doing their regular jobs, with some changes being made after business hours Tuesday.

"I did not receive an updated agenda until I walked in today," Miller said. He also said "there is nothing on this agenda that says we have to adopt this agenda. So that is incorrect, what you just said, Mr. Chairman."

Those disagreements aside, the board did decide to:

• Bring in Kevin Jackson, Hillsborough County's chief consumer protection investigator, to serve as interim director, replacing Cesar Padilla, who retired last month after questions were raised about him moonlighting on PTC time as a security guard. While interim director, Jackson will be paid the same salary as Padilla, slightly more than $107,000 a year.

• Name a committee to begin searching for a permanent director. Jackson will not be a candidate for that job.

• Agree to have county internal auditor Michelle Leonhardt assess the PTC to identify areas of risk and critical concern that could be subjects of future audits.

The goal, Crist said, is for the PTC to "have our house in order" before the next Legislative session, when lawmakers say they might consider bills to revoke its charter.

That way, he said, the only question legislators should have to consider is whether such an agency should exist, not whether they need to do something about its internal operations.

Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who heads the state Senate Transportation Committee, and Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, said last month they plan to do something during the session to address complaints and concerns about the PTC.

That announcement followed the disclosure that Padilla, who had been director since 2007, was under increasing scrutiny for working as a security guard, including on days that payroll records indicated he was either sick or working for the PTC.

The Tampa Bay Times reported that on at least 10 occasions, Padilla, 59, had done security shifts at an auction house while county records showed he had reported working or being out sick.

The county has also agreed to temporarily assign an administrative assistant to the PTC. The PTC's administrative aide quit on Friday.

Miller said his resignation was effective immediately and would notify the County Commission so it could discuss appointing a replacement. The PTC's board includes three county commissioners, two Tampa City Council members, one Temple Terrace council member and one Plant City commissioner.

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