TAMPA — Two months have passed since a recommendation to greatly expand the role of Hillsborough Area Regional Transit to oversee all sorts of transportation initiatives beyond bus service, and it still is unclear what its new board will look like and just what it will oversee.
At a meeting Monday, the directors of HART were unable to agree on how or even whether to change the board's composition.
Instead, they voted to allow their chairman, CEO and attorney to meet with the county attorney, administrator and staff to create a consensus document about the board's governance.
"We have to start showing a great deal of leadership," said County Commissioner Sandy Murman, who serves on the HART board and made the motion. "And the message has got to be that we understand the big picture — the traffic problems, the transit problems in this community — and we're willing to step back and work on a consensus document."
The recommendation would eventually be brought back for discussion and possible approval.
The proposal to transform HART goes hand-in-hand with a proposal to ask voters in 2016 to approve a 1-cent sales tax to help pay for transportation improvements, including light rail, in the county. As envisioned, HART would become the agency overseeing the projects, expected to top $5 billion over three decades.
A similar tax-for-transportation referendum failed in 2010. In that case, the topic of governance was a last-minute discussion, County Commissioner Mark Sharpe said, so leaders are trying to act now to assure they have everything organized before going to voters this time.
The HART board is made up of 13 members — seven appointed by the Hillsborough County Commission, three by Tampa, two by the governor and one by Temple Terrace. The county's other city — Plant City — has no appointees to the board.
Under an idea proposed by a large group of local elected officials calling itself the Policy Leadership Group, the HART board would still include the two gubernatorial appointees. But every other member would be an elected official — all seven county commissioners and the mayors of Hillsborough's three cities, for a total of 12. As it stands, fewer than half the HART board members currently are elected.
Under this iteration, the mayor of Tampa would be that city's sole representative on the board, but would still be able to cast three votes. This means HART's charter would have to be altered to allow for proportional voting. County Administrator Mike Merrill said interlocal agreements between the county and cities could accomplish the change.
Even if the HART board were to reject a reorganization, Merrill said rules already allow the county and cities to appoint all elected officials — rather than laypeople — if they choose.
"Each jurisdiction can appoint to the HART board whoever they chose," Merrill said. "It's not like it's anything really new that's needed. If the County Commission wanted to appoint all seven of themselves to the HART board right now, they could do that."
Several citizens spoke up during a public comment period Monday against that idea.
"What evidence is there that a board of elected officials is preferable from the people of Hillsborough County?" Ken Roberts of Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation asked. "You see, nobody's ever been led out of the HART chambers in handcuffs. Nor has anyone from this board ever gone to prison for malfeasance or misuse of public money."
Contact Caitlin Johnston at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443. Follow @cljohnst.