Beleaguered head of Hillsborough transportation commission will retire

Published Aug. 28, 2013

TAMPA — The embattled head of the government agency that regulates cabs and other for-hire vehicles in Hillsborough County has told members of his board that he is retiring.

Cesar Padilla, executive director of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, informed some board members Tuesday afternoon he will leave by Friday.

"I told him I think it's best for the organization," said County Commissioner Les Miller, who serves on the seven-member PTC board. "Personally, I think the PTC plays a major role in the community. But we don't need any more of the negative aspects that cloud the environment."

Padilla has led the PTC since 2007, when he was promoted from chief inspector. But he has come under increasing scrutiny amid recent reports that he was moonlighting as a security guard, including on days that payroll records indicated he was either sick or working for the PTC.

Last week, the Sheriff's Office revoked his certification as a reserve deputy, which had allowed him to get off-duty work in private security. In recent years, he had worked twice-monthly shifts at Tampa Machinery Auction.

The Tampa Bay Times has reported that on at least 10 occasions Padilla, 59, had done security shifts at the auction house while county records showed he had reported working or being out sick. He made about $10,400 for security work during that time at an hourly rate of $28.

Padilla, who is paid just more than $107,000 by the PTC, was negotiating a new contract with that board's chairman, County Commissioner Victor Crist. Padilla was seeking a pay hike because a proposed contract provision would have forced him to forgo outside work, Crist said. During those discussions, Padilla told Crist he had been doing security work.

Crist had faulted Padilla earlier this year for distributing his own personnel evaluation in the chairman's name that, not surprisingly, gave himself glowing marks.

Miller said Padilla intends to submit retirement paperwork through county human resources today, with a departure date of Friday.

Padilla has been out of the office and did not returned repeated messages seeking comment. Mario Tamargo, chief inspector for the 10-person agency, has been serving as acting director. The PTC board, which includes members of the County Commission and representatives from Hillsborough's three cities, will need to vote on a permanent or interim replacement.

The PTC sets and enforces rules governing taxicabs, limos, wreckers, ambulances and other vehicles for hire.

The news of Padilla's departure came the same day that a national public-interest law group said it will sue the PTC over a rule that sets minimum charges for limousine service.

The PTC places a $50 minimum for limo rides in the county, no matter the distance, in part to keep them from poaching business that would go to cabs.

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"It should not be illegal to give your customers a better deal," said Justin Pearson, executive director of the Institute for Justice's Florida Chapter, based in Arlington, Va. The group, which says the rule stifles competition and entrepreneurship, says it is representing Tom Halsnik, owner of Black Pearl Limousine, and customer Daniel Faubion. The suit will be filed today in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

Tamargo said the agency has won past challenges over its rules and emphasized that limo operators sought the minimum charge.

"If they set it down to zero, we'll enforce that," Tamargo said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.