By Tom Rask, from the Tampa Bay Guardian
“The referendum language was vetted closely,” Hillsborough County commissioner Kimberly Overman told the Tampa Bay Times earlier this month. Overman was speaking about the ballot language for the Hillsborough transit tax hike referendum that passed in the general election this past November.
Overman’s claim was essentially the same as the one made by All For Transportation (AFT) a day earlier, when an AFT spokesman told 10 News that their measure was “thoroughly vetted.” AFT is the group that spent $4 million on the citizen initiative to place the tax hike referendum on the ballot.
However, a public records request to Overman for any records to support her “vetted closely” claim turned up no records. In other words, Overman has no evidence to back up her claim and thus made no effort to independently verify AFT’s claim which she parroted.
Despite repeated requests from multiple media outlets, AFT itself has failed to produce evidence of any legal review of its tax hike effort prior to placing it on the ballot.
The tax hike is now the subject of a lawsuit claiming it violates state law in at least three ways. That lawsuit was filed by fellow county commissioner Stacy White, who says he filed it “in order “to protect the rule of law in Florida.”
Our request for records was made to Overman directly in a county commission meeting on December 5th. County staff created a ticket for the request on the 7th. When no response had been received by the 22nd, the Guardian notified the county that it intended to sue the county in order to compel production of the public records we had requested.
On December 28th, county public records staff wrote that “our office received confirmation [from Overman] there are no responsive records to this request.” It thus took 23 days for Overman to admit that she had no evidence for her “vetted closely” claim.
Apart from having no formal legal opinion on its effort before placing it on the ballot, AFT has also not produced evidence of any kind of “vetting” of its effort. The question becomes: was AFT’s vetting “close” or “thorough”…or non-existent?
Editor’s Note: Proponents of the Hillsborough County transit tax resorted to half-truths and lies to promote a $16 billion boondoggle. This is but one of many examples.