Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pinellas commissioner Janet Long criticizes state Sen. Jeff Brandes for transit probe

ST. PETERSBURG — Pinellas County Commissioner Janet Long lashed out at state Sen. Jeff Brandes on Wednesday night, accusing the St. Petersburg Republican of trying to stop the momentum of the Greenlight Pinellas transit tax referendum by calling for an investigation into the transit authority's educational campaign.

Long, a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority board member, made the comments during the transit board's first meeting since Brandes called for an investigation into how the authority is spending public money to inform voters about the Nov. 4 referendum. It seeks to raise the sales tax from 7 percent to 8 percent to pay for expanded bus service and light rail.

"It seems to be a little bit of a stretch where he's going with this request since there are a majority of elected officials on this board, and I find it somewhat personally offensive that the insinuation is that we're somehow trying to intentionally break the law," said Long, a Democrat. "It is a distraction, and it is very definitely an effort to try to put brakes on our initiative."

"I can't help that he doesn't like transportation options," she continued. "He has a right to his own opinion, but it's a bit of a browbeating effort in my opinion."

Commissioner Ken Welch, who serves as chairman of the PSTA board, agreed. He called the inquiry request a "subjective" move on Brandes' part.

Earlier this month Brandes accused the campaign of crossing the line between informing and advocating and asked the Florida Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General to investigate the use of about $800,000.

Brandes emailed a statement to the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday.

"While it is true that I do not support raising the sales tax in Pinellas to the highest level in the state to pay for 19th century transportation options, this really isn't about my opinion of the Greenlight Pinellas light rail plan," Brandes said. "As an elected official, I never view it as a distraction to ensure that taxpayer funds are being used lawfully. I believe that elected officials should always welcome a full and impartial review of how hard-earned taxpayer dollars are spent.

"As far as transportation options, as the Chairman of Senate Transportation I am on the record in support of bus rapid transit and other dynamic options to enhance our transportation network," Brandes said.

On Wednesday, PSTA's Chief Executive Officer Brad Miller updated the board on the inquiry.

The DOT's Office of Inspector General investigates the use of state dollars, Miller said, noting that the PSTA has not used any state funds, only federal money, for the information campaign. Auditors confirmed that, Miller said, but Brandes wanted a broader investigation of the federal funds.

"It's not necessarily under (the OIG's) official purview but they do try to answer other questions that come up when they're doing audits outside of their normal scope, and we've provided them all the information that they need," Miller said.

Miller said he expects the OIG report within the next 60 days, and then PSTA will have 20 days to respond.

Pinellas commissioner Janet Long criticizes state Sen. Jeff Brandes for transit probe 04/24/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 24, 2014 11:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Shakeup on Adam Putnam campaign


    In a sign of unsteadiness for what  had  looked like a strong-out-of-the-gate Adam Putnam campaign, the Republican frontrunner suddenly fired his campaign manager and political director. Hard-charging Campaign manager Kristin Davis and political director Jared Small were two of the three outsiders to join …

    Putnam campaigning in Destin the other day as part of his 22-city bus tour
  2. Rays let early lead get away again in loss to Angels (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — As pleased as the Rays were to win consecutive series against the contending Red Sox, Indians and Yankees and to get briefly back over .500, there was a lot of talk in the clubhouse before Monday's game against the Angels that it was time to do better.

    Tampa Bay Rays third base coach Charlie Montoyo (25) high fives designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) as he rounds third on his lead off home run in the first inning of the game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Los Angeles Angels at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Monday, May 22, 2017.
  3. Tampa man arrested for killing man in his USF-area home


    TAMPA — A Tampa man was arrested Monday in the death of man found killed at a home in the University of South Florida area last week, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Kadeem Dareem Archibald, 26, was arrested Monday on a  second degree murder charge in the University Area killing of Khando Kerr. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. Report: Trump asked intel chiefs to push back against FBI collusion probe after Comey revealed its existence


    President Donald Trump asked two of the nation's top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, the Washington Post reports, citing current and former officials.

    From  left, CIA Director Mike Pompeo; Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats; and National Security Agency Director Adm. Michael Rogers take their seats on Capitol Hill on May 11 before  testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. [Associated Press]
  5. For Gov. Rick Scott, 'fighting' could mean vetoing entire state budget

    State Roundup

    Every day, Gov. Rick Scott is getting a lot of advice.

    The last time a Florida governor vetoed the education portion of the state budget was in 1983. Gov. Bob Graham blasted fellow Democrats for their “willing acceptance of mediocrity.”