Supporters of the Greenlight Pinellas public transit effort have worked hard to avoid the kinds of missteps that doomed the failed transit initiative in Hillsborough County four years ago.
That’s why it’s disappointing to see the head of the area’s regional transportation agency, known as TBARTA, take a leadership role in the group that is raising private money to get the Greenlight measure passed in November.
TBARTA Chair Ronnie Duncan can be a cheerleader for Greenlight, but he shouldn’t get involved in raising money.
Duncan told the Tribune’s Christopher O’Donnell that he consulted TBARTA’s attorney and was told he can be on the steering committee for the privately funded Greenlight campaign, known as Yes Greenlight, as long as he makes it clear he is doing so as a private citizen and not in his capacity as TBARTA chair.
But that’s an impossibility. His legal cover doesn’t eliminate the appearance of a conflict. He wants to be the chair of a public transportation agency while raising money to influence the Greenlight outcome at the polls.
State law prohibits public agencies from funding advocacy campaigns, and we take Duncan at his word that he would stay within the law.
Still, he’s not doing Greenlight or TBARTA any favors by asking the public to trust him.
His dual roles already have become fodder for a group opposed to the Greenlight plan. Yes, the Citizens Organized for Sound Transportation group is intent on doing anything possible to halt Greenlight, but it has a point.
We are in favor of the Greenlight initiative and think its backers have done an excellent job of gathering public support by holding community meetings and creating a workable plan that will greatly advance transit choices in Pinellas.
If passed, Greenlight would raise the sales tax by a penny to fund an expansion of bus service and build a light-rail line, while lowering property taxes to make up for part of the sales tax increase.
Duncan told us he doesn’t want to do anything that might jeopardize Greenlight, and understands that appearances matter.
He says he is considering his options.
We think he should eliminate this distraction by choosing to step away from Yes Greenlight.