Sunday, August 24, 2014

Did Brad Miller PSTA CEO Violate the PSTA Code of Ethics?

By: E. Eugene Webb PhD

Pinellas County, Florida - Brad Miller, PSTA CEOs' recent hasty return of Federal Grant funds misused to promote the GreenLight sales tax referendum has raised some serious questions.

In response to a series of  Public Records Requests, the Suncoast Public Transit Authority supplied the following information:

First Public Records Request:
1. Please provide an electronic copy of the PSTA Administration document requesting funds to reimburse Homeland Security CARES program- Community Awareness Results in Everyone's Security $354,000.

2. Please provide an electronic copy (PDF) of the check or wire transfer document or receipt returning $354,000 to reimburse Homeland Security CARES program- Community Awareness Results in Everyone's Security.

3. Please provide an electronic copy of the PSTA Administration document or e-mail formally approving funds to reimburse Homeland Security CARES program- Community Awareness Results in Everyone's Security $354,000.

PSTA Response:
Rachael Garofalo
To Me
Aug 15 at 10:38 AM
I emailed the files yesterday.  I’ve attached them again.  Note: these are the only two files responsive to your requests. 
Thanks, 
Rachael Garofalo, Executive Assistant
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
3201 Scherer Drive
St. Petersburg, FL 33716
Tel: 727-540-1806
Fax: 727-556-6506

What the Documents indicate:
On July 30, 2014 Marnie L. Maxwell prepared a Check Request Form (For Travel Advances, Miscellaneous Expenses by Employees and Payments to Vendors), for $345,090.67.
The Request was approved by PSTA CEO Brad Miller on the same day.

Note in the CHECK REQUESTED BY Section the entry is "IMMEDIATELY".

The PURPOSE FOR CHECK is stated as "Pay Back Grant Funds for Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090".
Pay Back Grant Funds is not a category listed on the Form. 

 See the PDF from PSTA files.
DHS Check Request-073014.pdf


On July 30, 2014, PSTA Check Number 014004444 was issued to Department of Homeland Security for $354,090.67.

See PDF from PSTA files.
  DHS Check-073014.pdf


There is no Response to the third Public Records Request:
Document or Board of Directors Action approving the Request or the Check to pay back Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090".

Apparently there was no formal authorization for issuance of the $354,090.67 check.

A fourth Public Records Request was sent to PSTA:
Please provide a copy of, or link to, the PSTA Charter Section, or PSTA Board approved Policy or Procedure that supports the issuance of the unbudgeted $354,090.67 check from PSTA funds to Homeland Security without approval by the PSTA Board.

PSTA Response:
Rachael Garofalo
To Me
Aug 19 at 8:56 AM
In response to your request for the PSTA Charter Section, or PSTA Board approved Policy or Procedure that supports the issuance of the unbudgeted $345,000 check from PSTA funds to Homeland Security without approval by the PSTA Board, please see response below from our General Counsel.  Also below is a link to the Board’s Rules & Regulations. 

The reference to the $100,000 spending limit, which is contained in Section 5.01 A of PSTA’s Rules and Regulations, is a limitation on the CEO’s “procurement of commodities and/or services”.  The decision to pay back the grant funds was not a procurement of commodities and/or services.  The PSTA Board previously had approved the procurement of the services that developed the ads in question.   This decision to return the grant funds was made pursuant to the CEO’s authority to administer PSTA’s departments, offices and agencies under Section 3.02 of the Rules and Regulations, which is included in the Rules and Regulations as well. 


Note here that the PSTA General Counsel does not dispute the claim that there was no formal authorization for the refund check.

Comment:

Section 3.02 Powers and Duties of CEO is reproduced below. To see the full Policy and Procedure Document please click the link above.

Section 3.02 Powers and Duties of CEO/ED –The powers and duties of the CEO/ED shall include the following:

A. The CEO/ED may employ such employees as may be necessary for the proper administration of the duties and functions of PSTA, and may determine the qualifications of such persons; however, the Board must approve the number of such positions and fix the budget for the compensation for employees. When he/she deems it necessary for the good of PSTA, he/she may demote, suspend or remove any PSTA employee or appointed administrative officer under the CEO/ED ʹ s jurisdiction, except as otherwise provided by law. Such action shall be in compliance with all applicable rules and regulations of PSTA.

B. Direct and supervise the administration of all departments, offices and agencies of PSTA except as otherwise provided for herein.

C. Attend Board meetings and shall have the right to take part in discussion but may not vote. See that all laws, rules and -12- regulations and acts of the Board which are subject to enforcement by the CEO/ED are faithfully executed.

D. Prepare and submit the annual operating budget and capital improvement budget to the Board of Directors.

E. Prepare and submit an annual capital program and all applications for federal and state grants.

F. Recommend changes to the fare structure and recommend changes to PSTA ʹ s service.
G. Sign contracts, deeds and other documents on behalf of PSTA pursuant to the provisions of these Rules and Regulations or as authorized by the Board of Directors.

 H. Develop and keep current a policy manual which shall set forth the policies adopted by the Board of Directors.

I. Provide such administrative assistance to the Board in connection with their official duties, and perform such other duties as are specified in these Rules and Regulations or may be required by the Board.

J. The CEO/ED shall designate a department director or other managerial employee who shall exercise the powers and perform the duties of the CEO/ED during the CEO/ED ʹ s temporary absence or disability. The CEO/ED shall notify the Board, electronically, who he/she has designate 

Comment:
There is no provision in this Section of the PSTA Policy and Procedures for the CEO on his/her own without Board of Directors authorization to cause any expenditure of  unbudgeted funds.

Even in its broadest interpretation there are no grounds for CEO Brad Miller to "Immediately" issue a check without PSTA Board approval to Homeland Security to cover his inappropriate and potentially illegal use of Federal Homeland Security funds. 

The refund request should have been brought to the PSTA Board for a full discussion and action. 

A fifth Public Records Request was sent to PSTA on August 20, 2014:
1. Request for Copy of Transmittal Letter that accompanied the PSTA Check (# 01440444) to Pay Back Grant Funds for Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090.
2. Any and all correspondence either regular mail, FAX or e-mail from or to Home Land Security regarding the payback of Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090. 
3. Copies of any agreements, releases, contract cancellations or other considerations that are or were part of the Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090 payback negotiation or agreement.
4. Contact Information including person or person(s) name, physical address, e-mail address and direct telephone number for the Homeland Security person or persons that negotiated or agreed to the Funds Pay Back for Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090.

PSTA Response:
1. Request for Copy of Transmittal Letter that accompanied the PSTA Check (# 01440444) to Pay Back Grant Funds for Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090.
See PDF From PSTA Files:
 2 CFO Deborah Leous Transmittal letter.pdf


2. Any and all correspondence either regular mail, FAX or e-mail from or to Home Land Security regarding the payback of Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090. 
See PDF from PSTA files:
1 PSTA Letter Unallowable Costs OCC edits and TSGP responses_arm_08 08 2014 _2_



Comment:
The Letter in the PDF above sets up the case for misuse of the FEMA funds. FEMA stated, "Through a review of the advertisements purchased and publicly disseminated, FEMA has determined that the advertisements purchased were not used in the manner in which PSTA expressly described in its application." Further, Based on the information summarized above, PSTA has violated the requirements of the 9/11 Act and the FY 11 Guidance that govern its grant agreement."

Miller approved the Grant along with the advertisement procurement and should have known the ads were not proper. 

Miller deliberately mislead the PSTA Board when brought the Homeland Security ad package to the Board for their approval.

His argument has been FEMA did not respond to requests for a review of the material, but the Grant clearly spells out FEMA's intention and Miller should have followed the Grant Guidelines.

However the most chilling statement may be in the last paragraph: 

"Please also note that even if the debt is paid in full, the United States does not waive its right to pursue any applicable civil or criminal remedies. In addition, the State will be held liable for penalties under the False Claims Act (Title 31 U.S. Code, Sections 3729 through 3733) or other applicable statutes and/or criminal penalties under Title 18 U.S. Code, Sections 286, 287, 1001, and 1002, or other applicable statutes for any knowingly false or frivolous statements, representations, or evidence made or provided. Unless prohibited by law or contract, the State will be refunded any amount paid or deducted from any Federal payments for the debt, if the debt is later waived or terminated."

These statements along with a desire to get this whole issue off the table  are likely key drivers in the decision to move "Immediately" to complete the grant pay back.

3. Copies of any agreements, releases, contract cancellations or other considerations that are or were part of the Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090 payback negotiation or agreement.

PSTA responded there are no Documents Available.

4. Contact Information including person or person(s) name, physical address, e-mail address and direct telephone number for the Homeland Security person or persons that negotiated or agreed to the Funds Pay Back for Grant # 2011-RA-TO-0090:


PSTA Response:
Tamia Minor, Grant Program Analyst,Grant Programs Directorate,Preparedness Grants Division. T: 202-786-9581, F: 202-786-9920, Tamia.Minor@dhs.gov

Comment:
Apparently in their haste to sweep all of this under the rug as quickly as possible, PSTA sent the $354,090.67 Check to the wrong address. The e-mail exchange below was included the PSTA response:

See PDF PSTA Files
3 email following up on Check




Comment:

It remains unclear why Brad Miller is so intent on using his office and the organization he is charged with overseeing as a political tool to get the sales tax referendum approved. It becomes even more difficult to understand when you consider the massive amount of private money assembled to support the GreenLight Plan.

Why take these unnecessary risks?

Miller's continuing efforts to skirt the rules regarding PSTA political participation in the sales tax referendum have seriously eroded the credibility of PSTA.

There are a host of questions that need to be answered.
1. Why the need to move so quickly on the refund?
2. Did Brad Miller violate the PSTA Code of Ethics by issuing the Grant refund Check without approval?
3 If he violated the Code of ethics should he be terminated?
4. What role, if any did Board Chairman Ken Welch play in this matter?
5. What role if any did Greenlight Yes have in the decision to quickly repay the FEMA Grant?
6. Can an after the fact approval by the Board of Directors legally fix the problem?
7. Can PSTA funds legally be used to indirectly  pay for these Greenlight ads?
8. Can Brad Miller be trusted to run PSTA in a legal and ethical manner?
9. Should the Department of Transportation take another look at how PSTA is spending its funds?
10. Should the State Attorney General open a criminal investigation into Mr. Miller and his conduct with state and federal funds?

The PSTA Board of Directors must stop rubber stamping everything Miller and Welch bring to the table, get some back bone and take some responsibility.

It is time for a full blown independent investigation and audit of PSTA's, leadership and financial dealings. 

There need to be some changes at PSTA and they need to be made quickly. 

E-mail Doc at: dr.webb@verizon.net. Or send me a Facebook (Gene Webb) Friend request. Please comment below, and be sure to share on Facebook and Twitter.
Disclosures: Contributor to
No Tax for Tracks.
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