ABC Action News by Matt Winer
March 30, 2017
There is “abundant evidence” that Hillsborough’s Public Transportation Commission is “playing fast and loose” with Florida’s sunshine laws, according to a Sarasota lawyer who has sued the county’s beleaguered regulator of taxis, tow trucks and other vehicles-for-hire.
The suit, filed by attorney Andrea Mogensen, has once again brought to light text messages among county officials that appear to show their attempts to influence public perceptions about how they deal with ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft.
Newly disclosed texts from Hillsborough Commissioner Victor Crist come a whopping nine months after Mogensen first requested all communications from then- PTC Executive Director Kyle Cockream. Mogensen later filed the suit after she says the PTC didn’t produce all of the requested records.
Cockream, who resigned his PTC post at the end of 2016, has since come under criminal investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for allegedly wiping clean his electronic communication devices. Meanwhile, state legislators are considering abolishing the PTC.
Mogensen says the PTC’s board and staff are “making a mockery” of the state Public Records Act, acting with impunity and intentionally thwarting her right to obtain access to public records.
The Sarasota lawyer has asked the judge to order PTC officials to submit sworn statements to the court about whether they have produced all of the records that she originally requested.
The new texts show a clear effort by Crist and other PTC officials to generate good press among local media outlets, including the Tampa Bay Times, as they negotiated new regulations with Uber and Lyft last year.
“Let’s see if we can’t mold in shape and encourage a good editorial supporting our efforts to move forward with striking a reasonable compromise that’s good for all parties involved including the riding public,” texted Crist one morning.
“It would be good if we could get them to do a positive editorial, supportive of our efforts to move forward and not focus on our tactics,” Crist texted Cockream. He added: “Sometimes it takes extreme tactics to move unwilling players to the table and forward.”
Victor Crist says the only reason those records that didn’t make it to Mogensen’s desk was because of a simple administrative error.
Crist tells ABC Action News that Mogensen was one of several people who made the same request for public records, and while most received all the records requested, Mogensen’s batch lacked some extra messages only by accident.
Crist says that as soon as the mistake was discovered, it was fixed, adding he has been supportive and cooperative of any investigations and has nothing to hide. [READ MORE]