Hillsborough County makes two new appointments to transit board

Rena Upshaw-Frazier and Eric Johnson will represent the unincorporated county, along with Marvin Knight, who was appointed to another term.
Rena Upshaw-Frazier and Eric Johnson will join the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board next month. Marvin Knight was appointed to another term.
Rena Upshaw-Frazier and Eric Johnson will join the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board next month. Marvin Knight was appointed to another term. [ CAITLIN JOHNSTON | CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times ]
Published Oct. 21, 2020|Updated Oct. 21, 2020

TAMPA — A transportation advocate and Hillsborough Community College director are the newest appointees to the county’s transit board after county commissioners decided to abide by rules requiring board members to live in unincorporated Hillsborough.

Three Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority board members were up for reappointment during Wednesday’s county commission meeting. Unlike Marvin Knight, Adam Harden and David Mechanik live in the city of Tampa.

In the past, the commission has waived a requirement that all county appointees to the board must live in unincorporated Hillsborough. But commissioners Stacy White and Mariella Smith said before Wednesday’s vote they would not waive the rules this time.

“In the past I’ve taken a ‘go along to get along’ stance on waiving the rules and approving committee members that reside within city limits, but I think the time has come to honor that policy and make sure that unincorporated Hillsborough County is represented on that board,” White said.

Smith, who serves as the transit authority chair, said it was important to make sure unincorporated county residents — who make up two-thirds of Hillsborough’s population — were properly represented.

The transit authority board includes 14 members, seven of whom are county appointees. Of those, four are elected officials and three are citizen appointees. Smith said she is the only elected official in this group who doesn’t live in Tampa.

The County Commission voted 5-2 against waiving the rules. Commissioners Ken Hagan and Les Miller voted in opposition.

Without the waiver, Harden and Mechanik were ineligible to serve an additional term. The commission replaced them with Rena Upshaw-Frazier, a co-founder of the transit advocacy group All For Transportation, and Eric Johnson, Hillsborough Community College’s director of communications and government relations.

County commissioner and transit authority board member Pat Kemp expressed concern that the new appointees would be thrown unprepared into an ongoing search for the next leader of the transit agency. The transit authority board is interviewing chief executive officer candidates and is expected to select one Nov. 2, which will be the first meeting for Frazier and Johnson.

But county attorney Christine Beck and County Commission chair Les Miller said the appointments had to be made Wednesday because terms expire Oct. 31 for Harden and Mechanik.

Frazier, Johnson and Knight begin serving three years terms Nov. 1.

“Both new members bring a wealth of experience and insights gained from their leadership within Hillsborough County; they will strengthen our board’s breadth of talent and experience,” HART interim chief executive Ruthie Reyes Burckard said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

Frazier is the second All For Transportation co-founder to join the board this year, following Tyler Hudson’s appointment by the city of Tampa.

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Frazier and Hudson were part of the effort to put a one-cent transportation sales tax on the ballot in Nov. 2018. Voters approved that tax, which has been collected since January 2019.

However, neither the transit authority nor local governments have spent any of that revenue, waiting instead for the Florida Supreme Court to rule on whether the tax is unconstitutional.

Frazier is an attorney and real estate agent who previously ran for the Florida House of Representatives.

“I am honored to have been selected to serve on the HART Board," she told the Times in a statement. "When I was a student, I relied on HART buses to get around. I’m personally familiar with the critical transit services it provides our community.”

Johnson has overseen communications and government relations at Hillsborough Community College for the last six years. In his application, he called himself an advocate for student transportation access and said he sees firsthand as a resident in the unincorporated county some of the transit challenges the area faces.

Burckard thanked outgoing board members David Mechanik and Adam Harden for their thoughtful dedication and service. Mechanik has served a number of terms on the transit authority board over the past several decades. Harden was appointed in November 2017.