Has the PTC jumped the shark?

Published Aug. 28, 2013

Jumping the shark, it's called — like when a longtime TV show finally does something so absurd and stupid it is officially beyond redemption. (Historical note: The term derives from Fonzie jumping a shark in water skis and leather jacket in Happy Days, a twist so dumb even viewers watching in footed jammies had to know it was over.)

Has Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission, an agency long criticized for lacking accountability, public purpose or actual rules, finally jumped the shark, politically speaking?

Created in the 1970s to regulate the taxi industry and later limos, ambulances and tow trucks — and notably, the only one of its kind in the state — the PTC is supposed to ensure safe transportation-for-hire with drivers who are not scary criminals.

But critics accuse the PTC of having the smell of the shakedown about it, of serving the interests of only a few companies that hold permits and hindering innovative transportation options. Over the years, the PTC could have scrapbooked its own special collection of headlines.

Are the latest ones about PTC executive director Cesar Padilla — a guy being paid a six-figure salary while out moonlighting even as payroll records indicate he was working at the PTC or out sick — the worst of them?

Peh. Not even close.

Where to start. The PTC burst big on the public's radar when then-Hillsborough Commissioner and PTC chairman Kevin White got caught trying to peddle his influence as the man who could get your tow truck company lucrative business for a little financial consideration — also known as bribes.

By the time he went to trial in 2011, and then prison, White had already sexually harassed a young underling, according to a federal jury's verdict, and used campaign money to buy himself suits. Imagine the possibilities an unfettered PTC offered up!

Then-state Sen. Ronda Storms aptly referred to the PTC as a scandal-plagued Jabba the Hutt with tentacles everywhere. (She was trying to get rid of it, in case you're wondering.)

But no, the PTC only made more news.

This year there was the one about how the aforementioned Padilla gave himself a job evaluation — the way they had long rolled at the PTC, apparently — and listed Hillsborough Commissioner and new PTC chairman Victor Crist as author. And how much fun would that be?

You will not be shocked to learn he gave himself largely five-out-of-fives and reviews like: "Outstanding leader!" "Exemplary wisdom and compassion!" Leads "with grace, despite the stressful circumstances!" (I added the exclamation points, but the rest was in there.) It was reported that this was intended it to be a self-evaluation to be reviewed by Crist, which was news to Crist, who said if this were a private business, Padilla would be fired.

But this is not a private business, no matter how much it acts like one.

Crist says the PTC has an important purpose and should be reformed, like the mess that was the Children's Board before the big fix. And yes, a major overhaul would be a start.

But this latest headline could be a fitting finale — that jump-the-shark moment when those of us watching finally say, okay, enough already.