Hillsborough County Commission votes to try to eliminate Expressway Authority by Mitch E. Perry

10/18/06

As controversy continues to swirl around the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, today the Hillsborough County Commission voted to ask the County’s local Legislative Delegation to eliminate the current expressway Authority, and create a new board with a more local focus.

The motion was crafted by the Board’s representative on the Authority, Commissioner Thomas Scott. (roll tape#1 o.q.�on that legislation�)

Also as part of his motion, Scott asked that the Chairman send a letter to the Tampa City Council asking them to join them in this action.

Questions about the Expressway Authority began in August over a controversial bid process for an outside legal services contract. The Authority’s lobbyist, John Beck, has been at the center of the troubles. Recent published reports have indicated that Beck has charged the Authority with numerous questionable invoices.

Last week Commissioner Scott was unsuccessful in getting Beck’s contract canceled. Other Expressway authorites voted against such a move, saying that Beck’s knowledge on so-called “P3’s�, or private-public partnerships, like the authority’s new project, an East-West road in New Tampa, argued against such a move.

But Commissioner Scott told fellow Commissioners on Wednesday that he had found a number of other experts are available (roll tape#2 o.q.�specialize in P3’s�)

Before the Board contemplated Scott’s motion, they heard from former County Commissioner Fred Karl, who has been hired as an interim legal counsel for the Authority as the state conducts a top to bottom of the authority. He pleaded for the Commission not to support disbanding the Authority (roll tape#3 o.q.�workable authority�)

Also calling on the Commission NOT to take any immediate negative action towards the Expressway Authority was former Florida House Speaker John Rials. He harkened back to the late 1970’s, when there was a move by local legislators to dismantle the just created Expressway Authority, after the Crosstown Expressway was built. He said it would be dangerous to replicate that time by having the County Commission take over the Expressway Authority’s duties (roll tape#4 “would be extremely premature�)

But Rials words were rejected by Commissioner Ronda Storms, who recounted a series of problems that have occurred on the Expressway Authority’s watch, well before the recent controversy (roll tape#4 o.q.�status quo is bitter �)

Governor Bush requested an audit of the Expressway Authority after his office conducted a formal inquiry and found no criminal wrongdoing. But the Governor’s top attorney did say there was the appearance of impropriety surrounding the bid process.

Commissioner Kathy Castor said she wasn’t certain if changing the Expressway-Authority to a completely local board was necessarily the right remedy, but did support Commissioner Scott’s motion (roll tape#5 o.q.�a broader look�)

Commision Chairman Jim Norman said with the East Road ready to finally go forward, it was important to craft an alternative to the current Authority(roll tape#6 o.q.�elimination around the corner�)

That comment seemed to persuade fellow Republican Commissioner Brian Blair, and the Commision voted 7-0 to approve Scott’s motion supporting the call to advise local state legislators of their feeling it was time to disband the current Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority, and create a new board.

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