Sunday, June 24, 2018
Politics

Carlton: Could salty talk be the final straw for the PTC?

Let us consider what's been said over the years about Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission. Oh, where to start.

There are the allegations of the PTC's cozy relationship with the taxi and limo industry it's supposed to regulate.

Or the fact that the PTC is the only such standalone agency in a state in which other local governments seem to handle the same duties without all the vitriol.

There was that two-year battle over regulating edgier ridesharing options like Uber and Lyft — alternatives consumers obviously wanted.

And for nostalgia, you can't forget that PTC chairman who went to prison for trying to sell his influence for bribes in the tow truck business.

So yes, you could call the PTC controversial. You could also call it under investigation, this time over whether agency cellphones were wiped clean despite public records law.

And now we can add to the list of things one small detail that might finally (and rightly) doom Hillsborough's PTC:

An apparent case of potty mouth.

Text messages containing some rather unkind thoughts about certain elected officials were recovered from the cellphones of then-PTC executive director Kyle Cockream and top staffer Brett Saunders. Admittedly, things were a tad tense at the time, since it had been revealed that Cockream had used cabdrivers for PTC stings to ticket their mortal enemies, drivers for Uber and Lyft.

What, something wrong with that?

In the texts, the two exchange witty humor about putting their nemesis, then-PTC chairman and current County Commissioner Victor Crist, onto a bonfire. Who hasn't said that about a colleague? Then there's the part where Saunders calls Crist a (bleeping) idiot and says of state Sen. Dana Young, "(Bleep) her too." There's a fun bit about getting fired instead of resigning in order to get a big, fat severance.

Did they learn nothing from Tampa's infamous lawyer fiasco, when phone records were used to trace members of the Adams & Diaco firm's setup of an enemy lawyer for a DUI using a comely paralegal perched on a neighboring barstool?

With a whole lot of damning texts and calls playing out into the night as the scheme unfolded?

No, this is not that. But I mean, read a paper, guys.

Yes, we all have that First Amendment right to free speech (unless that's changed with the day's news — it's hard to keep up lately). Some of us even work in places where talk can turn salty.

But when you are doing public business and talking about public officials, it tends toward the unseemly and unprofessional, to use a few printable adjectives.

So it's fair to say this year's bill to abolish the PTC will likely have legs with legislators. Heck, in his final speech to the board, Cockream himself referred to the darkly cynical political drama House of Cards. Fun to watch on TV, but in our actual government not so much.

Keeping the transportation industry safe and fair — the very reason the PTC came to be — is an important, necessary function that can easily be folded into local government. Hillsborough Tax Collector Doug Belden has already offered.

Those unfortunate texts are but the icing on a mud pie, another dirty detail that could not come at a worse time for the agency. Or maybe a better one for the public.

Sue Carlton can be reached at [email protected]

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