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Sides are split on a bill that would reduce the size of the Pinellas transit authority board

a number of the board members, along with PSTA CEO Brad Miller, sitting around a large table next to one another, with large signs behind them.
Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority
A committee substitute last week removed the two members that would be selected by the Florida Senate President and House Speaker.

One advocate wants to see more full-county representation, while a PSTA committee chair says that would mean specific communities' issues would be addressed less.

A bill that would dramatically change the structure of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority Board is being met with pushback from those concerned it will lead to less local representation.

Meanwhile, advocates for the bill say it'll lead to more fiscal accountability.

HB 1487 filed by Pinellas County House Rep. Linda Chaney would reduce the board's size from 15 members to 11, while also changing who is in charge of appointing each member.

A committee substitute last week removed the two members that would be selected by the Florida Senate President and House Speaker. Instead, those two members would be picked by a combination of municipalities from the southern and northern parts of the county.

Sharon Calvert, a Pinellas County resident and president of Fix our Roads First, a transportation advocacy organization, said she likes the idea of a smaller board and wants to see more full-county representation, rather than more members from specific cities in the county.

"Get this passed. And let's see if there's more accountability, more transparency,” Calvert said. “PSTA continues to have fiscal issues, and it needs to be addressed."

Calvert said the board has made several poor decisions that haven’t taken into account the needs of the community.

“We have seen over a number of years, a focus on projects that are nice to have … but aren't the needs,” Calvert said.

The bill would also redefine the term “public transit” and restrict PSTA from eliminating any lanes to accomplish other projects without first presenting to the Pinellas Board of County Commissioners.

Calvert says she likes the bill as currently constructed, but would like to see more from it that would force the board to take additional community input, like a requirement for more public hearings.

Mark O'Hara, chair of PSTA's Transit Riders Advisory Committee, said more countywide representation means less addressing issues of specific communities.
"You're going to see more places like unincorporated Pinellas have a voice over PSTA where they don't pay into PSTA,” O’Hara said. “They don't get a millage rate on their tax line. And they would have more of a say of what's happening in St. Petersburg, than the other way around."

O’Hara sees the bill as “retaliation” for previously reducing lanes on First Avenue and Pasadena Boulevard.

“The bill is being proposed in the name of oversight and more transparency in having PSTA run more efficiently,” O’Hara said. “However, from reading the bill, and doing some study of the legislation, I don't see anything in there that actually says, ‘oh, it's going to make PSTA better.' ”

Several municipalities in Pinellas — like Dunedin and Largo — have passed resolutions speaking out against the bill and how it could impact their representation on the board.

But O’Hara said that the resolutions don’t mean much at the state level.

“It's a very, very wonderful gesture that our communities are defending PSTA, but it may be, for lack of a better term, hollow,” O’Hara said.

He says anyone who is worried about the transparency of the current board should attend any of the PSTA meetings he’s in charge of running.

“Talk to us and explain to us, the riders, why you think this bill will help,” O’Hara said. “Give us examples, details and listen to us as well. We have invited board members, we have invited Representative Chaney to join ... And we've not heard anything.”

But Calvert says the board and county residents need to take a hard look at what is happening to the entity financially.

“Anybody that's trying to defend [the current board], get down into the details and the facts, not some pie in the sky opinion that says, ‘well, we can't change anything,’ ” Calvert said. “And by the way, change is good sometimes.”

The bill has two more committees to go through before it can be voted on by the full house. It doesn’t need a senate companion to be implemented.

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