Sunday, April 22, 2018
Opinion

Public Transportation Commission survives, along with chance for scandal

This is probably the paper-pushing government equivalent of wanting to preserve a Red Tide bloom as an homage to the environment.

But there they were, Hillsborough County's august Florida Legislature delegation voting to save the Public Transportation Commission for yet another day of back-slapping, pocket-stuffing and phantom time cards.

You would think if you had an agency charged with regulating taxi cabs, limousines, tow trucks and other vehicles for hire that had a reputation for having less fealty to ethics and competence than the Deadwood City Council, you would welcome any effort to abolish the department.

Ah, but this is Hillsborough County, where no dubious deed goes unpunished or certainly unappreciated.

In recent years former Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White was dispatched to the federal hoosegow for bribes he collected like charms during his time as PTC chairman. And former PTC director Cesar Padilla quickly retired after it was disclosed he was moonlighting as a rent-a-cop while also clocking in on his no-show job.

As well there are legions of stories of favors dispatched, cronies helped and outsiders unable to get a fair hearing for permits before the PTC.

So it was that state Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, proposed a bill putting the future of the PTC in the hands of Hillsborough voters to decide if they still wanted the county's transportation issues to be managed by the Bowery Boys meets the Skull and Bones Society.

This only made sense. After all, the PTC is the only stand-alone virtually unaccountable transportation agency among Florida's 67 counties. Why is this? To paraphrase the final line in Chinatown, "Forget it, Jake. It's Hillsborough County, where reality goes to die."

But for Grant and Brandes to get their measure on the ballot, they would need the cooperation of the entire Hillsborough legislative delegation, the very same people who love to offer up boilerplate piffle about good government, accountable government, efficient government, ethical government.

And that was where the delegation ran into the headwinds of resistance offered by former state Sen. Victor Crist, who now serves on the County Commission as well as chairman of the PTC.

Crist went into full DefCon 1 Chicken Little mode arguing the PTC stands as a vanguard in protecting public safety (insert cynical cough: here) and was a vital beacon of consumer protection (suppress spit-take: here), while continuing its ongoing commitment to reform (oh, go ahead and guffaw: here).

But what Crist was oh so conveniently overlooking was that 66 other counties across the state somehow successfully manage the administration of cabs, limos, tow trucks and the like within the normal boundaries of their respective county government bureaucracies without having to rely on a semi-autonomous agency with less oversight of its duties than a World Wrestling Entertainment phony bout.

It also didn't hurt Crist's PTC phooey that cab and towing owners and drivers showed up to decry the effort to abolish their bureaucratic sugar daddy. And with that, the Hillsborough legislative delegation voted 6-4 to scuttle the Grant/Brandes modest attempt at restoring some sanity to the agency.

And why is that? Who knows? Then again Kevin White should be getting out of the slammer soon. Maybe he'll need a job suitable to his unique people skills.

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