Monday, December 18, 2017
Transportation

PSTA chairman tells CEO to quit tussling with Greenlight opponents

ST. PETERSBURG — The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's board chairman wants to be better informed and more directly involved after a few recent gaffes by agency staff, according to a recent memo sent to board members.

The PSTA's decision to post the names of those who request public information on the agency's website and a controversial ad campaign have both drawn criticism in recent months.

Chairman Ken Welch said he wrote the memo Friday to address those issues. He said he was more concerned about the decision to publicize the names of people and groups seeking public information from the agency.

"That's not our focus. Our focus should be on service delivery and getting Greenlight information out," Welch said. "Just let's use our time for what our priorities and resources are."

PSTA chief executive officer Brad Miller admitted the agency overstepped the mark but said it didn't intend to discourage the public from seeking information.

"The original posting of the requester's name was not the right thing to do," Miller said.

Requesters' names have been removed from the site, and the staff is working to make requested documents available online, attached to the request. If that can't be done, the website page might be removed, Miller said.

Dr. David McKalip, a St. Petersburg neurosurgeon and prolific records requester, hadn't seen the memo. But the ardent Greenlight opponent blasted Welch over his leadership.

"Welch realizes that he has not managed the PSTA board properly. And no amount of scrambling on his part can cure that. He needs to resign now," McKalip said Monday.

McKalip said he plans to ask that Welch and Miller resign at Wednesday's board meeting.

Welch, also a Pinellas County commissioner, said McKalip and others are a "hard-core group of opponents" who have made allegations of illegal activity by PSTA for years.

"I think staff has felt compelled to reply to every jab of the opposition, if you will, and they don't need to do that," Welch said.

Welch is "the perfect chairman for PSTA" and they worked on the memo together, Miller said.

PSTA has engaged the public, including opponents, for four years about the Greenlight plan but doesn't need to spend time "on reacting to something (opponents) say," Miller said.

The focus needs to be clear, he said: Inform the public about the details of the proposal, which would expand bus service and eventually create a light-rail system from St. Petersburg to Clearwater with money generated by raising the county's sales tax from 7 to 8 percent.

Welch also said he wants Miller to send the board a weekly email summary and "look-ahead" every Friday until the Nov. 4 election.

And "as an additional safeguard," Welch wrote in the memo, he and Miller will review all proposed ads before they are finished. The board's planning committee should also be involved, he wrote.

The agency repaid $354,000 to the federal government in July after opponents raised questions about ads funded by a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant. Opponents said the ads' purpose was more about advancing Greenlight's political chances than raising security awareness.

Earlier this year, state Sen. Jeff Brandes asked the Florida Department of Transportation to investigate whether PSTA's informational materials about Greenlight illegally advocated for its passage. The state agency concluded that they did not.

With voters going to the polls soon to decide the fate of the Greenlight plan, Welch said his memo was meant to focus everyone's attention on the task at hand.

"We've been running hard as an organization," he said. "It's been a long path to get here. It's time to call time out as we're entering the fourth quarter. There are some adjustments we need to make."

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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