Saturday, May 26, 2018
News Roundup

PSTA puts public records requests on its website

ST. PETERSBURG — In the first half of this year, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority fielded an average of two public records requests each day.

Want to know who made them and why? Now you can.

The transit authority launched a new page on its website Thursday that lists each request by date and the person or organization making the request. The database also is searchable.

The move comes amid a pitched battle over the Greenlight Pinellas transit referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot. If approved, the plan would increase the sales tax by one cent to pay for expanded bus service and a light rail system.

The records search feature was conceived with Greenlight in mind, said Brad Miller, PSTA's chief executive officer.

"From the onset, the Greenlight Pinellas initiative has been based on transparency and inclusiveness, and this is one more way we are meeting that goal," he said in a statement. The other goal is to show the public the volume of requests.

Two of the most outspoken critics of PSTA and the Greenlight plan are prominent on the log.

St. Petersburg neurosurgeon David McKalip has made 41 of the 347 requests between Jan. 1 and Wednesday. Seminole business owner and County Commission candidate Tom Rask made 20 requests in that period.

Many of the other requests are from law firms, insurance companies, law enforcement agencies and transit union officials seeking documents, videos and other materials related to personnel issues, crashes and other incidents.

McKalip, who regularly posts transit items on his blog, has sought information ranging from raw ridership data to Greenlight bus wraps. Many of his requests are related to PSTA's use of Department for Homeland Security grant money on a marketing campaign meant to raise security awareness.

McKalip alleged that the television commercials in the 2013 campaign promoted PSTA and the Greenlight initiative, not security. Miller insists the ads complied with the scant federal grant guidelines provided to the agency, but decided last week to repay $354,000 after learning the department was likely to seek reimbursement because the ads didn't properly address anti-terrorism security.

McKalip called the records request page a publicity stunt. He said PSTA makes him play guessing games about how to ask for information. Otherwise, he said, he's told the agency doesn't have any records that fit his query.

"They pretend to be trustworthy but if you really know what's going on, they're hiding things from the public," he said.

McKalip said the agency should include information provided in each request. PSTA is looking into how to do that, said spokesman Franco Ripple.

Rask also questioned the transit authority's motives.

"It would not surprise me if they put this database out there in order to suppress public records requests," he said in an email.

PSTA officials disagree.

"In fact, it makes it easier and more streamlined for people to know what records to ask for, by seeing what's been requested," Ripple said. "PSTA's goal is always to provide more information to the public, not less."

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