Public transit CEO under fire two weeks ahead of $2 billion light rail vote
By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Two weeks from a major sales tax vote and the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority is back in the news — for all the wrong reasons.
BRAD MILLER: Chief executive officer of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.
Its chief executive, Brad Miller, is under fire again over misspent federal terrorism funding, with a veteran investigative reporter accusing Miller of lying and the PSTA emails to back it up.
Miller also stands accused of endorsing a transportation union’s Facebook post in which the union calls for a boycott of area businesses opposed to the potential sales tax hike.
Concerned area residents will attend a Wednesday morning board meeting and demand Miller’s resignation, Watchdog.org has learned.
Veteran Tampa Bay-area instigative reporter Mike Deeson of WTSP reported over the weekend that Miller lied about the use of a federal terrorism grant:
“Pages and pages of emails we obtained through a public records request show that instead of using hundreds of thousands of dollars of Homeland Security money to make the buses safer, PSTA had a plan to advance its transportation initiative that goes to the voters in November.”
That transportation initiative is critically important for PSTA. Hanging in the balance is a proposed 24-mile long light rail train connecting St. Petersburg to Clearwater, projected to cost about $2 billion.
The eleventh-hour scrutiny could influence undecided voters, especially since the PSTA is asking Pinellas County residents to vote themselves the highest sales tax rate in Florida.
Watchdog.org reported in April that U.S. Department of Homeland Security funding was being used in PSTA advertisements that included the transit plan’s logo, known as Greenlight Pinellas.
Months later, with DHS threatening to take the money back, Miller announced the transit authority would “voluntarily” return $354,000. Miller characterized the misspent funding as a mistake and blamed DHS for a lack of guidance.
But newly public emails tell a different story: Miller and other top brass knowingly used the terrorism funding to promote Greenlight Pinellas.
“It’s now been proven,” said Barbara Haselden, spokesperson for No Tax For Tracks, a grassroots group opposed to the light rial plan and its multi-billion dollar price tag.
“The emails show it was premeditated,” Haselden told Watchdog.org. “It wasn’t an accident, it was all planned.”
Deeson reported that another internal email from marketing director Janet Recca said, “We were able to leverage our federal grant dollars and further Greenlight efforts.”
With respect to the Greenlight Pinellas logo appearing on transit ads funded by DHS, Miller emailed, “I insist on this and won’t approve payment on anything else.”
Watchdog.org contacted the PSTA for an explanation, but didn’t receive a return response.
No Tax for Tracks called for Miller’s resignation in August after the PSTA reimbursed DHS. Haselden, among others, wanted accountability. By then, grant money was already spent on television, radio, Internet and bus ads, and the PSTA spent local taxpayer funding to reimburse the federal government.
“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,” Haselden said.
Miller was unanimously supported in a subsequent vote by the transit board.
Miller also was the subject of local headlines recently when, as PSTA’s top public officer, he “liked” a Facebook post by the Tampa Bay Area Transit Workers Union that called for boycotts of businesses that support No Tax for Tracks.
“Attention!! Fellow union members, especially beach trolley drivers, and rt. 59: I have documentation showing that Crabby Bills in Indian Rocks donated $1000 to No Tax For Tracks. Please do not refer patrons to this restaurant. Tiffany’s in Palm Harbor, on US 19 is another to avoid,” one post reads.
“Trying to intimidate businesses is terrible,” Haselden said. “They found in-kind contribution records listed with the supervisor of elections.”
Miller’s Facebook endorsement has been removed.
On Tuesday, Haselden doubled down, telling Watchdog.org, “There should be no question that Brad Miller should be fired.”