Transit group wants Ronnie Duncan to step down from TBARTA

Posted by Mitch Perry on Mon, Feb 10, 2014 at 10:30 AM

Ronnie Duncan at Fridays Yes on Greenlight kickoff
  • Kevin Tighe
  • Ronnie Duncan at Friday's Yes on Greenlight kickoff
A conservative activist group is calling for TBARTA Chairman Ronnie Duncan to step down from his position with the transportation agency because of his high-profile position with Yes for Greenlight, the new political action group formed to campaign for the transit tax in Pinellas County this November.

"Mr. Duncan is now serving dual roles," writes Sharon Calvert, a spokesperson for Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation (COST), in a letter sent to Duncan and copied to Governor Rick Scott as well as the rest of the TBARTA board. "He is chairman of a state agency at the same time he is stepping into the position organizing and leading an effort known as 'Yes for Greenlight,' advocating support to pass the sales tax referendum in on the November ballot in Pinellas County."

Duncan denies there is any conflict of interest in his new role with Yes on Greenlight. He told CL on Friday, "I'm a Pinellas County resident first and foremost. I focus on Pinellas County. I've been elected to office from here. I believe in this county. I have kids here. It's really about me and the community. It's not about TBARTA."

TBARTA is the state-created transportation agency created in 2007 that is charged with implementing a regional transportation master plan for a seven-county region of Florida (Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota counties). The agency has no authorization to raise revenue or mandate its plans be adopted.

Duncan has been chairman of the agency since 2010. He previously served one term on the Pinellas County Commission.

In the letter written by Calvert, she writes that his two roles now constitutes a serious conflict of interest.

"Your public political advocacy while holding this influential leadership position on the TBARTA board seriously undermines the credibility of TBARTA. This is unacceptable. Your actions are counter to TBARTA's stated Guiding Principles that call for 'integrity' and to 'build a credible reputation in word and action.' The only way the credibility of TBARTA can be restored is with your immediate and unconditional resignation from TBARTA."

Duncan told CL on Friday that while he acknowledges that there is a connection between TBARTA and Yes on Greenlight, since they are both related to transportation, he insisted that "there's no conflict of interest at all."

At Friday's news conference introducing the Yes on Greenlight campaign, Duncan described himself and St. Pete Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Steinocher as serving on the Steering Committee for the group, and has been labeled as one of the leaders as well.

Calvert is best known as being a leader opposing Hillsborough County's transit tax referendum in 2010. Like the Greenlight Pinellas measure, Hillsborough's plan called for increasing the sales tax by a penny to help pay for an expanded bus service as well as a light-rail network. However Greenlight Pinellas plan includes changing the current funding formula to fund the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority which would implement the plan.

Last Monday at HART's monthly board meeting, one member of the board who supports the Greenlight Pinellas measure (but requested anonymity) also expressed some surprise to learn that Duncan now had a leadership role with the new group.

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