The head of the county's bus system overstepped his authority when he paid disputed bills without board approval, concludes a report by the system's attorney.
Executive director Tim Garling violated no state law, but he did break a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority rule when he paid invoices that exceeded prices the board had approved for transportation of the disabled provided by Clearwater Yellow Cab. Yellow Cab thought it should be getting a total of $12.55 per ride. The PSTA thought the company should be getting only $9.05 per ride. The difference adds up to about $875,000 per year.
"It was my intention to ensure that the DART service was provided uninterrupted to our customers," Garling said Tuesday.
The report by Alan Zimmet was in response to questions asked by PSTA board member Julie Bujalski, who was concerned after she discovered Garling had let the situation with Yellow Cab stew for several months before informing the board and had paid the full amount of the bills rather than the amount PSTA thought was due to the company. Bujalski said she was also upset to find from Zimmet's report that Garling continued to pay the full bills despite the attorney's advice that he "cease this practice immediately and pay only what PSTA believes is owed."
"I am appalled that my executive director chose not to follow the legal advice of the PSTA … attorney and I'm appalled in doing so he also chose not to communicate with the board, a board that represents the taxpaying citizens of Pinellas County," Bujalski said.
"There must be open and transparent government,'' she said. "Mr. Garling has not been open and transparent to the board. … I'm clearly unable to do my job without the proper information. He's hindered my ability to do my job for the taxpayers. … I'm very disappointed in his actions."
Garling said he had no intention of deceiving the board or keeping anything from its members. His goal, he said, was to make sure the disabled transportation continued uninterrupted and to have a set of options for board members when they discussed the issues. He noted that Yellow Cab threatened to cease service if he followed Zimmet's advice to pay only what PSTA thought it owed.
PSTA and Yellow Cab are still working out a solution.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at (727) 893-8450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.