Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Anti-light rail tea party advocate has her own conflict, transit tax supporters say

In the wake of conservative activists' call for the leader of Pinellas' pro-transit campaign to resign, mass transit advocates are accusing the group of applying a double standard.

At the center of the debate is an ethical question: Is it wrong for the board member of a public agency to also work for a political advocacy organization that tries to influence policy on the same topic?

Earlier this week, the group Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation sent a letter to the board of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, criticizing its chairman, Ronnie Duncan. Duncan leads the "Yes for Greenlight" campaign, an advocacy group that's raising money to support an upcoming transit tax referendum that TBARTA has endorsed.

The group has formed a 501c4, a designation that allows it to collect donations while keeping its funders' identities secret, a step that angered COST spokeswoman Sharon Calvert.

On her blog, Calvert wrote: "There is a problem when the chairman of a state agency serves as chairman for a private organization whose anonymous big dollar donors are hiding behind a 501c4, whose true interests are as hidden as the donors."

On Wednesday, referendum supporters shot back, arguing that one of Calvert's allies, Karen Jaroch, is guilty of the same thing.

Like Duncan, Jaroch was appointed to the board of a public agency, Hillsborough Area Regional Transit, or HART. She also works for Heritage Action, a 501c4 that functions as the political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation that doesn't release its donors' names.

If Calvert's group followed her own reasoning, Jaroch would have to resign from one of the two organizations, said Kevin Thurman, executive director of the pro-transit group Connect Tampa Bay.

"If Sharon Calvert and Karen Jaroch, the co-founders of the Tea Party in Hillsborough County, want anyone who works with advocacy nonprofits to resign from public service, then Karen Jaroch should lead by example," he said in a statement, adding that he believes Jaroch and Duncan have the right to serve in both roles.

Jaroch said the circumstances are different in Duncan's case. Her work with Heritage focuses on federal issues, she said, while Duncan is playing two parts in one local transportation debate.

"I'm not raising money for the opposition, I'm not going out and speaking on their behalf, I don't see any parallel at all," she said.

It's a flimsy distinction, Thurman argued. Heritage Action opposes public spending on light rail, a view that Jaroch championed before joining HART's board and continues to uphold.

"When Karen is on the HART board and advocating against light rail while being paid by an organization that also advocates against that, it is a conflict as far as the standards they set," he said.

Anti-light rail tea party advocate has her own conflict, transit tax supporters say 02/12/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 10:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)


    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.