TAMPA BAY – A Tampa TV station is alleging improprieties – if not wrongdoing – by SunRail executives in promoting the coming$1.2 billion commuter rail service project.
Reporter Noah Pransky at WTSP Tampa wrote that in the past seven years, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has spent $1.7 million in taxpayer money on “public involvement,” which includes public relations, producing videos, and focus groups to come up with the perfect name for the 61-mile commuter rail project.
“Because (FDOT) couldn’t win in the court of public opinion, they had to spend a lot of our money,” said SunRail critic Rosemary Goudreau, a former Editorials Editor at The Tampa Tribune.
“(It) tried to influence public opinion to think that this is a good deal, when it was one of the worst deals Florida has ever made in terms of transportation.”
SunRail has been criticized recently for its high price, low ridership projections, degree of risk to the state, and possible negative impact on Polk County. About half the cost of the project is a payment to private corporation CSX for partial use of the tracks.
Even before the state legislature gave the final approval for the project in 2009, FDOT was spending large amounts of money on shaping opinion.
A public information request revealed the following FDOT expenditures on SunRail between 2004 and 2011:
•$831,613 to Marianna Ingborg Amberg Gurnee, a former Orlando Sentinel writer, for public relations consulting.
•$352,135 to Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin for public relations on environmental assessment.
•$299,917 to “MyRegion.org,” a private pro-rail group, for hosting public meetings and focus groups to come up with SunRail’s name.
•$118,380.76 to Pecora & Pecora for public relations, including “message development” and “strategic communications leading up to the Aug. 2006 announcement of an Agreement in Principle between FDOT and CSXT for sale of the SunRail corridor”
•$105,638 to Data Transfer Solutions for public relations videos.
Goudreau, who was acting as a private consultant to the Downtown Lakeland Partnership by 2009, calls the MyRegion.org contract particularly appalling. She said she would frequently see representatives from the group and its parent company, the Central Florida Partnership, in Tallahassee.
The complete story can be found at www.wtsp.com/news/local/article/205449/8/10-News-Investigators-find-hidden-costs-of-SunRail-