Count Lisa Montelione as another Tampa City Council member expressing unease about the proposal for the current HART board to be restructured, with the County Commission and the mayors of Tampa, Temple Terrace and Plant City taking control.
"Much like the MTA in New York or other transit agencies around the country, it's usually one agency that handles the multimodal buses and trains, trolleys, any of those rail or rubber wheel types of mass transit. They don't do roads," says the New Tampa area councilwoman, referring to the fact that currently the commission deals exclusively with roads while HART handles mass transit. "I'm not sure how that would work."
Montelione has a very active role in transportation in Tampa, as she currently serves as vice chairwoman of the Hillsborough Metropolitan Organization and chairwoman of its livable roadways committee. She also frowns on the idea that the restructured board — at least as outlined in a proposal by County Administrator Mike Merrill last month — would remove members appointed by the Commission. "I like having citizens sitting there," she says, "because you get more representation and they're more accountable because they know they can be replaced at anytime."
Montelione's colleague on the council, HART board chair Mike Suarez, has been front and center in speaking out against the proposed restructuring of HART, because of similar concerns that the County Commission and the transit agency have different missions in terms of addressing Hillsborough's transportation needs.
Suarez backtracked late last week from a published report that he wasn't certain the county would be ready for a transit referendum by 2016. One reason he says that Hillsborough efforts might pale compared to Greenlight Pinellas is the buy-in by stakeholders, especially regarding the County Commission itself, which is the only local government agency with the power to put a referendum on the ballot.
A majority of the current board — Ken Hagan, Sandy Murman, Al Higginbotham and Victor Crist — has yet to express its support for such a referendum, though in fairness there are no details yet to be debated on such a plan. But Montelione says that's another reason why she's skeptical about the Board of County Commissioners dominating a revamped HART.
"People who are in charge of your mass transit agency have to be proponents of mass transit, and from what I understand watching the HART meetings on government access television, it doesn't seem that all of the board members there now are proponents of mass transit," she says.
Meanwhile on the other side of the Bay, a new internal poll
released yesterday shows the Greenlight Pinellas measure growing in acceptance some four months before the transit tax goes before Pinellas County voters. County Commissioner and PSTA board chair Ken Welch acknowledges that the measure is being helped by the buy-in throughout the entire county, but was hesitant to say that just because Hillsborough may not be as united now, they won't be when it counts.
"I was at Emerge [Tampa Bay] last week," Welch said on Tuesday. "They've got some great leaders, Mark Sharpe, [Kevin] Beckner, [Mike] Suarez, [Bob] Buckhorn. But our whole thing was getting a plan together and before the voters. And there were calls over here to delay in until 2018 — no. Get the plan together, get some leadership, and move forward. So, I don't want to denigrate Hillsborough. They've got the leadership to get this done."