Anatomy of the rushed Hillsborough transit tax audit, part 1 of 2

It was after 3 P.M. in County Center on a hot Friday in September. The previous evening at 6:15 P.M., Hillsborough County Chief Financial Administrator Bonnie Wise had requested that “errors” be corrected in the performance audit report delivered by the auditing firm McConnell & Jones (M&J). The corrected report arrived at 2:33 P.M. In…

City commissioner e-mails city staff asking for campaign support

Largo City commissioner Samantha Fenger used her city e-mail account to ask city staff to sign petition cards so she could get on the ballot for the November election. On the face of it, Fenger’s actions appear to violate Florida Statutes 104.31 , which governs the political activities of state, county, and municipal officers. “I’m reaching out…

Tampa Bay Partnership membership income down 35% amid restructuring

A review of the Tampa Bay Partnership’s (TBP) 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 tax returns shows a 35% decline in membership dues in just three years. In the last year, it dropped 11% from the year before, despite a deep restructuring of the organization in 2016. The TBP is a non-profit 501(c)(6), which is the same…

State agency says public not allowed to see audit work plan for tax hike

Voter support for the 14% hike in the Hillsborough County sales tax is already unlikely. If the statutorily required audit of the government agencies receiving the money was supposed to increase voter support, a state agency may have just reduced the likelihood of that happening. OPPAGA, the state agency responsible for performing the audit, claims…

City of Clearwater wins one in ongoing land battle

The City of Clearwater scored a victory on Friday when the 2nd District Court of Appeals (DCA) for Florida overturned a circuit court decision involving submerged land in waters off of Clearwater Bay. The Guardian wrote about that decision last year, which was a summary judgment. Such judgments are rarely overturned, which makes the DCA decision…

City’s website carries political message against property tax cut on ballot

The City of Temple Terrace displays a third party political ad prominently on the front page of its website. The ad opposes Amendment 1, a high-profile referendum measure on this year’s general election ballot in November. The Guardian discovered the ad on Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend and immediately emailed questions to city manager Charles Stephenson…

Transit agency proposes NEW five cent gas tax to pay for more transit

In the past six months, the Guardian has reported on PSTA’s plummeting ridership and its declining farebox recovery,  We’ve also reported on PSTA’s increased reliance on free parking shuttles and free special events shuttles to boost ridership. PSTA’s soluiton?  Don’t provide the troublesome data to its politician-packed board anymore. In the agenda and meeting packet for next Wednesday’s board meeting,…

Jane Castor campaign misleads voters about its own fundraising success

Campaign finance reports for the month of April show former Tampa police chief Jane Castor raised $33,540 in April from 89 donors. A political action committee called “Tampa Strong,” which is likely to support the same issues Castor does, raised $15,250 in April, with $10,000 of that from four corporations writing checks for $2,500 each. The amount…

School chief slammed shooting fact as “fake news”, is caught in lie

More than five weeks after the Parkland school shooting, Broward County school superintendent Robert Runcie wrote that “the rise in ‘fake news’ related to this tragedy is reprehensible.” Runcie then alleged three examples of such fake news, one being the allegation that the shooter was “assigned to PROMISE while in high school.” More on the PROMISE…

22% ridership drop in one year on busiest bus route in Pinellas

PSTA calls it the Central Avenue Trolley, abbreviated “the CAT.” Launched in 2011, the CAT was billed as “a one-seat, non-transfer ride from Pass-a-Grille to the St. Petersburg Pier.” At that time, PSTA attributed systemwide ridership increases to the CAT. That was then. During the first six months of PSTA’s current fiscal year, CAT ridership…