Friday, October 30, 2015

It's All Been Corrupted and Compromised: Shut Down the PLG and Go Hillsborough NOW!


Posted by Sharon Calvert
Eye on Tampa Bay

Re-posted here with permission

The Eye has always been skeptical of the transportation initiative and the Policy Leadership Group (PLG) since it was created in March 2013. How could we not be skeptical when the very first participants invited to participate were the rail cartel. On August 4, 2013 I posted A Solution looking for a Problem and said way back then:
We need problem solving public policies not agenda based policies. So yes as Salinero stated I will be watching this process closely and suggest all taxpayers in Hillsborough County do as well. Or hold on to your wallets!
How prescient....because the process ended up creating a $1.35 million taxpayer funded crony mess resulting in a flawed proposed huge $3.5 - 7 Billion sales tax hike.

No one at County Center or the county commissioners can feign ignorance about this mess. They were warned and those warnings are publicly documented.

We have documented the cronyism, the deception, the flawed process, the half-truths, the flat out lies, what appears to be violations of our Sunshine laws, what could be violations of our electioneering laws, violations of provisions within Parson's CCNA umbrella contract and the phoniness that has surrounded the entire Go Hillsborough campaign.

The problems are not going away. Certainly Mike Merrill, Parsons, Bob Clifford, Beth Leytham and the county commissioners cannot think these issues are going to go into hiding and be swept under the rug while law enforcement is investigating.

They better think again. 

WTSP's Noah Pransky's latest 10 Investigates reveals that some county commissioners intentionally and consistently use their personal email accounts to have private discussions about county business. As reported by Pransky, the commissioners did not hand over these emails when requested via Statute 119 public records requests until a private citizen threatened legal action. 
Those public records – never produced for 10 Investigates by commissioners – reveal that not all the emails were personal in nature, with many dealing with county-related topics such as transportation expansion (now dubbed "Go Hillsborough") as well as coordination on newspaper op-eds Leytham helped the commissioners write. 
The 85 emails from Hagan and 27 emails from Murman also demonstrate how frequently the commissioners use their personal AOL accounts to discuss public business. And the failure to turn the documents over to 10 Investigates, despite several requests, raises new questions about whether additional electronic communications may exist between the county's most powerful politicians and one of its most powerful behind-the-scenes operatives.
Hmmm Sound familiar? There's no private servers sitting in a bathroom but these commissioners intentionally used their personal email accounts to secretly discuss county business with the politically well connected PR lobbyist Beth Leytham. How many more secret emails or text messages exist like these and what do they say? Taxpayers and voters deserve to know.

Leytham has been dubbed the "Queen of Damage Control" but we'll shorten it to "Queen Beth" because she is now Queen of all the damage she herself has created but cannot control, regardless of how many times the Tribune tries to circle their wagons to cover for her.

Queen Beth blurs all lines between the many hats she wears -- political consultant, close advisor, close friend, close associate, lobbyist, campaign consultant, private citizen, candidate volunteer. She uses those hats for easy access to the electeds, Mike Merrill, the media and other so-called power brokers. Queen Beth rarely discloses which hat she is wearing when. Does that enable her to circumvent lobbyists requirements and campaign filing disclosures?

What did we learn from Pransky's latest report and the private emails? Certainly more questions need answering. 

Confirms our previous claims that the Go Hillsborough campaign, County staff, County Attorney Chip
Fletcher, Parsons, Queen Beth and some county commissioners violated our broad Sunshine Laws by refusing to timely comply with Statute 119 Public Records Requests.
"To paraphrase Attorney General Pam Bondi, access to public records is not up to the whim of public officials — it is an enforceable right of the people. Our elected officials, and those who work on their behalf, have to remember that they have a legal duty to produce all records related to public business pursuant to a request for such records."
Confirms that Queen Beth was running a "shadow" Go Hillsborough campaign totally in the dark outside the public view.

Confirms our claims the intention of the Go Hillsborough campaign was always to result in putting another huge 30 year sales tax referendum on the ballot. 

Murman apologizes while Hagan hits back with a full page letter to Pransky ala the known Leytham style of deflecting, doubling down and pointing fingers at others.  

How can our own electeds, their staff and the County Attorney's office not fully understand our broad Sunshine laws and how to comply with them? 

What "imprecise communications" is County Attorney Chip Fletcher referring to that he stated his office was taking responsibility for? 

This private email exchange between Queen Beth and Hagan, received through a public records request and referenced in Pransky's latest report, provides "their private" Go Hillsborough referendum timeline. 
Private email exchange between Leytham and Hagan
 re: timeline for referendum (click to enlarge or click link above)
How can Queen Beth be scheming secretly with Hagan in April about a referendum timeline? She was being paid hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars at that time to run the campaign and Go Hillsborough was telling the public in April that recommendations on funding options were to be made much later in the process. 

Should the county demand their money back from her? She was circumventing the very process she was being paid to run.

Also, this email exchange occurred at the very same time Queen Beth had conducted a Go Hillsborough poll at taxpayer expense in April. Suddenly Hagan "jumped the shark" and publicly came out for a sales tax referendum almost 2 months before the tax hike was formally proposed at the June 11 PLG meeting. 

It is apparent that Queen Beth gave Hagan the poll results back then but she refused to provide any poll information to citizens who requested copies of the information via Statute 119 Public Records Request. 

How did Queen Beth communicate the poll results to Hagan? Who all did she communicate them to - any other county commissioners, Merrill.....and when did that communication occur?

What is this petition drive Leytham refers to in the email exchange? Has that ever been publicly discussed? It obviously was discussed with County Administrator Mike Merrill because she states he opposed it. Who else was a petition drive discussed with - any other county commissioners?

Who is this "professional grassroots" campaign - costing $450K - Queen Beth refers to? Who was she orchestrating that strategy with? Isn't the use of "professional"and  "grassroots" together in the same sentence an oxymoron? Perhaps Queen Beth should check Webster's dictionary for the meaning of each. A "professional grassroots" campaign costing $450K is called astroturfing - the deceptive tactic of simulating grassroots support for a cause undertaken by people or organizations with interest in shaping public opinion.

As we posted previously, the Parsons contract is Risky Business to taxpayers. The CCNA procurement process used to hand Parsons their million dollar no bid blank check contract to create a transportation plan was never intended to be used for campaign work, micro-targeting of voters, polling and electioneering work for putting a sales tax referendum on the ballot. 

The Go Hillsborough campaign collected lots of rich data, rich voter information, contact information, etc. at taxpayer expense. The county needs written contractual assurances from Parsons that all the information and data gathered is owned by the County, has been given to the County and no one associated with the Parsons/Leytham/Go Hillsborough campaign can hand any of this rich information collected with taxpayer dollars to anyone except the county. That ensures that anyone may access any and all the information collected with taxpayer dollars via Statute 119 public records requests. 

The county commissioners must step up to protect the taxpayers and hold themselves accountable.

The county commissioners must terminate the tainted Parsons contract immediately.

No more taxpayer money should go to Parsons and all activity with Parsons should be stopped. Tainted Parsons should not be brought back at taxpayer expense to present any plan created through this flawed and corrupted process. 

The PLG was the group instrumental in creating the Go Hillsborough debacle. We now know the PLG has been compromised and corrupted too. We always said that way too much of the PLG effort was being orchestrated behind the green curtain, outside of Sunshine with little transparency. The PLG must be part of the law enforcement investigation. 

The county commissioners must terminate the Parsons contract immediately, cancel the November 5 PLG meeting, shut down the PLG and end the phony Go Hillsborough campaign.

Because it's all been corrupted.
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