In June, PSTA executive director Brad Miller and board chair Ken Welch blasted a report
by WTSP's Mike Deeson that said that the Pinellas County transit agency had misused funding from the Department of Homeland Security to pay for ads promoting Greenlight Pinellas, the transit tax initiative on the ballot this November. But in an about face, Miller earlier this week ended up refunding $354,000 to DHS after the federal agency said that the ads didn't meet the requirements for an "anti-terrorism" campaign.
So does that mean that PSTA board chair Ken Welch wants to take back his complaint that Deeson's story was simply "misinformation
as he charged at that PSTA board meeting in June?
"Brad (Miller) still stands that they were in compliance," Welch says of the series of ads that ran back in 2013. "The key point was this was a year ago," he adds, before the Board of County Commissioners had officially voted to put the measure on this year's ballot, and thus can't be considered as advocating for the measure.
"What does that have to do with anything?," Dr. David McKalip responded when told of Welch's comments. It was McKalip who first reported on PSTA's use of such funds on his blog
that was later picked up by Deeson for his report. "Greenlight has been going on for two and a half years," McKalip said, adding that PSTA's contention that the ads were shown before there was an actual ballot measure was "ridiculous" and said it was another reason why both Welch and Miller should resign from PSTA.
The three 30-seconds ads in question have been described as "feel-good" public service announcements espousing how using PSTA will ensure a safe secure ride for the passenger. They included the Greenlight Pinellas logo and website at the end of the spots.
"We've got a hardcore of Greenlight opponents who are going to do everything to take focus from the real issue on this November’s ballot," says Welch, referring to McKalip, a Tea Party activist and prominent critic of the measure.
McKalip's post, titled, "PSTA abuses Federal Anti-terrorism Grant to Promote Greenlight Pinellas," got currency after Deeson reported on it in June
, and was immediately contested by both Miller and Welch. At the board's meeting in late June, another board questioned whether the agency should contact WTSP about getting a retraction (Welch said no).
This is the second time that the PSTA has been accused of spending taxpayer funds on behalf of the transit tax proposal. Earlier this year, St. Petersburg based state Senator Jeff Brandes made a similar accusation and forwarded a complaint to the state Department of Transportation. An Inspector General later ruled that there had been no malfeasance.
Now it is Pinellas Congressman David Jolly who has gotten into the act, asking the DHS in late May to look into the PSTA ads.
"The pattern is the same," says Welch, who spoke with CL this morning. "A Greenlight opponent makes a complaint to a legislator on record as opposed (to Greenlight) and an investigation starts." Welch says that DHS hadn't answered PSTA's questions in over a year in regards to their ad campaign, but that obviously changed when Jolly intervened.
Welch, who has served on the Pinellas County Commission for almost 14 years and took over the chairmanship of PSTA in the past year, says this latest development is just another desperate effort to knock off Greenlight's momentum.
Referring to how all four of the County Commissioners who were on the ballot defeated their anti-Greenlight opponents in 2012 (referring to himself, Karen Seel, Janet Long and Charlie Justice), Welch says the opposition now is "running out of options" to stop what he considers to be the positive momentum to get the transit tax passed later this year.
McKalip calls this weeks' development a big moment in the year-long campaign for Greenlight. "It demonstrates to the voters that the PSTA and the elected officials cannot be trusted with the tax dollars that they have. That they will abuse the tax dollars for their own purposes. Then they will lie and attack anyone who tells voters the truth."