rejected the claim
posed in a TV report that suggested the funding for the ads (which included the Greenlight Pinellas logo and website at the end of the spot) had been improperly used.
Now opponents of the Greenlight Pinellas initiative are pouncing on that mistake, and are calling for Miller to resign as head of PSTA.
"PSTA played loose with the rules and developed a series of feel good commercials and graphic bus wraps with no connection to protection of the citizens against the very real threat of terrorism in our community, who often target mass transit,” says Barb Haselden, spokesperson for No Tax for Tracks, the group formed to oppose the measure in Pinellas. "These bus wraps and TV commercials both directed the public to go to Greenlight Pinellas.com, thus using the grant monies to promote the Greenlight tax increase referendum in November.”
"That's absurd," replied PSTA spokesman Franco Ripple late in the afternoon about the call for Miller to be ousted.
After Miller returned the federal funds, PSTA Chairman and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch defended him
, but writes in a letter to the editor in today's Tampa Bay Times
that "PSTA should have had better communication with DHS and required its approval before running the ads," adding, that "Although I was not PSTA chair last year, I take full responsibility as the current chair and have asked our CEO to review all grant procedures. The DHS grant is a small part of PSTA's $86 million budget and the millions in federal grants we receive yearly, and our grant compliance record is excellent. This particular grant should have been handled better. We will learn from this experience."
No Tax for Tracks is bitterly opposed to the Greenlight Pinellas measure, which calls for a one-cent sales tax to add nearly $100 million in new funding for PSTA to help build a 24-mile light-rail network running from downtown St. Petersburg to Clearwater Beach, as well as substantially enhancing the bus system in Pinellas County. It would also eliminate the current way the agency is funded, which is through property taxes.
“PSTA has violated the public trust and fiduciary duty under the leadership of CEO Miller and County Commissioner/ PSTA Chair Ken Welch by misuse of DHS taxpayer funding designated to protect our citizens from violence and terrorism," says Haselden in the No Tax press release. “PSTA will push their agenda to pass Greenlight at any cost even to jeopardize the safety of our population. They have mocked the public who questioned their actions.”
That's a reference to how outspoken Welch has been in his criticism of Greenlight opponents, who in some cases are part of a Pinellas Tea Party crowd that has often clashed with the commissioner since 2010. In June Welch dismissed the reporting of WTSP's Mike Deeson about the DHS funding for the ad, deriding it
as "misinformation from folks that aren't willing to look at this fairly. They're going to use every tactic that they have to defeat this. So we ought to be prepared for that."
Earlier this month, Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Executive Director Brad Miller returned $354,000 to the Department of Homeland Security after the federal agency said that a series of Pinellas transit ads financed with those funds did not meet the requirements for an "anti-terrorism" campaign. It was a humbling moment for the head of the Pinellas transit agency, since he initially