TBARTA Opposes Amendment Four listen03/26/10 Arielle Stevenson
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Less than two months ago, President Obama granted funds for high speed rail from Tampa to Orlando.
But today, Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and other members of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) discussed how Amendment 4 could affect their future plans. Dubbed the "Hometown Democracy Amendment," the legislation would require public approval regarding growth management projects locally.
Iorio minced no words on what she sees as the negative impact such legislation would have regarding TBARTAâ€™s transit initiatives.
*â€œBut I will just say as one person, who is a strong proponent of smart growth and mass transit, I believe that amendment four will have a very negative affect on progressive growth management policies."*
Iorio added that she understands the thinking behind the legislation, given Floridaâ€™s history of growth management.
"I understand fully that the reason this has gotten to the point where it is, is because generally the state of Florida has done a very poor job with growth management. And because of that people, at some point say if you canâ€™t do a better job at it, then I will just do it myself. But that kind of reaction, though understandable in theory, if you really allowed it to take it to its full degree of thought its really going to be harmful to our efforts to building smarter growth.
Those on the board expressed serious concerns about amendmentâ€™s potential to slow down growth projects. Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard raised concerns regarding current voter drop off on existing ballot measures.
*â€œIt is not a matter of whether our citizens can understand them, itâ€™s a matter of whether they want to take the time to understand them. And with everyoneâ€™s busy life styles, I doubt that that they will take the time and understandably so, that is why they elect us."*
Bob Clifford, executive director for TBARTA, says hometown democracy would cause major holdups for Floridaâ€™s mass transit push.
*â€œThis whole amendment four this has I think at least the possibility, if not the probability If it passes, of being the most detrimental piece of legislation to not only our region but to the state of Florida, I understand people wanting to be able to have greater say in how things are done and how things are approved but this is not the answer.â€*
The board unanimously passed a resolution opposing Amendment 4. Mariella Smith, chair of growth management for the Tampa Sierra Club, says she isnâ€™t surprised at TBARTAâ€™s decision to oppose the amendment.
*â€œThese are the very officials that Hometown Democracy is a referendum against. Hometown Democracy expresses citizen frustration with these very officials in their failure to implement smart growth in planning for the growth of our region.â€*
But the legality of that decision could be in question. TBARTAâ€™S legal adviser, Don Conn addressed such a concern at the start of the discussion.
*â€œOn the question of can there be an expression of support or opposition relating to the referendum, my opinion is that yes that there is no legal prohibition on this board taking a position either for or against a referendum issue.â€*
According to SB 216, sponsored by Sen. Charlie Justice, the boardâ€™s position on the issue is only illegal if they expend public funds to support their position. Justice says that TBARTA was within its rights to take a stance.
*â€œIf a body wants to pass a resolution or take a position on something, thatâ€™s part of what they are supposed to do. They are supposed stand up and take a position on issues, this does not stop them from doing that at all.â€*
Stetson University College of Law professor Richard Harrison specializes in local government and dissected the legislation.
*"Yes that action is legal for two reasons, one because if all TBARTA did was pass a resolution then arguably it did not expend public funds to do that. Second reason that TBARTA is probably okay is that, because it is a state agency and not a local government, I don't believe chapter 106 applies to it.â€*
But for Sierra club activist, Mariella Smith, public funds were spent opposing Hometown Democracy.
"These elected representatives sitting on this board, are sitting there on the taxpayerâ€™s dime. This meeting today was in a taxpayer funded building; they are spending taxpayer money to fight a citizen led initiative. That is not only illegally, it is wrong, it is morally wrong."