The two agencies were scheduled to meet today in Tampa for their final meeting before agreeing on recommendations to send the state legislature by Feb. 1. That would be the last step since the agencies were called to meet, pay for a consultant's study, and examine the ramifications for cost savings if they were to merge — all called for in a bill (that passed last year in Tallahassee) sponsored by Pinellas lawmakers Jack Latvala and Jeff Brandes.
But earlier this month, PSTA Executive Director Brad Miller cancelled today's meeting due to HART board members' decision to rescind their earlier support for a "desk audit," as originally agreed upon on Dec. 10.
However, today, the PSTA board agreed to meet HART's board in Tampa on Monday, Jan. 28 (the exact time is undecided).
But Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch doesn't understand why the boards need to meet again.
"There was a lot of misinformation that I read, even on Facebook, that this was about subverting people's will. Those things are just not true," Welch said.
The "misinformation" refers to responses to Miller's remarks about the benefits of a Joint Powers Agreement (JPA). Miller said a JPA would allow the agencies to consolidate services without having to go before the voters in a referendum.
The comment was perceived as trying to make an end-around the voters, specifically by HART board members Karen Jaroch and Josh Burgin.
PSTA's chair, St. Pete City Councilman Jeff Danner, said the reason for a JPA was to consolidate services to save money and increase productivity within the two agencies. It's something that could happen without the need for voters to approve every individual function. His opinion was questioned by HART board members and constituents as a way to avoid public accountability, something that Danner said was the farthest thing from the truth, "it was never a way about getting around the voters."
Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala said she agrees with Welch, but it would be a sign of disrespect for PSTA not to meet up with HART later this month.
"I don't want it to be adversarial," she said, adding that in her role as a public official she'll meet up with anybody. "I just don't want it to be on the record of us not meeting with them."
The majority of the board agreed.
Dunedin City Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski said members of HART's board owe it to PSTA members to explain why they voted in agreement on Dec. 10, only to change their minds a week later.
"We go away and they decide not to agree on it anymore? I'm sorry. They should at least explain that position," Ward Bujalski insisted.