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VMs Vote to Back TBX Lanes; Discuss Code of Conduct

The May Voting Members meeting started with a presentation from TBARTA Executive Director Ray Chiaramonte, a Westchase resident, before turning to a review of the WCA's Code of Conduct.

Chiaramonte explained that Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority was established in 2007 to improve transportation within seven counties: Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.  Chiaramonte said that because Hillsborough County has a major airport, university, sports and workplace hubs, many people from other counties drive through here. 

Chiaramonte described a number of TBARTA initiatives, including Vanpool, which has 96 vans in operation. Each van holds 8-14 people and they are used by large employers like the VA Hospital and MacDill Air Force Base.  Another new initiative, the Tampa Bay Express TBX, would add a 44-foot wide median in the center lanes for a future premium transit service. The first part of this project will be done on the Veterans Expressway. There would be an express toll lane where commuters could pay an additional cost over the regular Veterans toll.

Chiaramonte noted that the next big meeting to address the TBX projects will be the Hillsborough County MPO Vote on June 22, at 6 p.m. at the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners Chamber, on the second floor of 601 E. Kennedy Blvd.  He said it will be important for residents to show their support of initiatives or available state money may go to other areas like Jacksonville and Orlando.

The TBX expansion project will also add lanes along Interstate 275, including the Howard Frankland Bridge, and Interstate 4. The project has run into some stiff opposition from residents of Seminole Heights and Tampa Heights, who express fear that the construction will affect the historic character of those neighborhoods.

VM Cynde Mercer (The Bridges) asked, “Aren’t people in Seminole Heights losing some homes?”

Chiaramonte replied, “No houses will be taken in Seminole Heights. A business will be taken for a retention pond. If there are historic houses, they will be moved. People are being treated very fairly.”

Chiaramonte said that organized residents in Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights are very vocal and complain about these changes at the MPO Board meetings.  Ralph Caputo (Abbottsford) asked, “What can Westchase do?”

Chiaramonte replied, “Westchase needs to come to the meeting. People can speak. Citizens can email the board of county commissioners and the MPO board members.”

WCA President Joaquin Arrillaga added, “The new Howard Franklin Bridge is planned for 2017-2018. We all use these roads.”

Arrillaga asked the group, “Do we have a motion?”

VM Mary Griffin (Single Family Homes of WPV) made a motion to ask the Westchase Community Association Board to publicly support the June 22 TBO vote. VMs unanimously approved the motion.

WCA Director Joe Odda was asked if these proposed projects changed some of the other projects for which Westchase is advocating, like the Citrus Park Drive extension and road paving. Odda replied “This doesn’t cancel the need for the additional sales tax. The half cent sales tax is still being discussed. There are three transportation workshops coming up. They will be focused on finding funding for the original transportation plan. June 8 is the third meeting where they will bring forward a funding solution.”

Turning to other issues, VMs unanimously approved Brentford’s second and final required request for a new mailbox guideline.

The group then moved to the final agenda item – discussion of the Member Code of Conduct. At the April Voting Member meeting, VM Nancy Sells (Harbor Links/The Estates) had brought up the item by citing an exchange at the Dec. 10 WCA Board meeting between Director Brian Ross and Arrillaga. “Brian just lost it and personally attacked our President verbally. Never have I seen that type of display of behavior. Joaquin handled it beautifully and kept his cool. I would be interested in talking about it,” she said at the time. 

In April VMs briefly discussed the matter, While unclear on what action to take, they did agree that the Code of Conduct document needed revisions and formal acknowledgment by all VMs and board members.

Inside the VMs’ packets at the May 10 meeting was a transcription of the Ross-Arrillaga exchange from the December meeting.

Returning to discussion of the Code of Conduct, Alternate VM Michael Brudny (Glencliff), an attorney, explained to the group that the document, which had been revised based on input from VMs, still had a number of issues. “What is missing is the enforcement part,” he said. “There is nothing in the enforcement section that deals with behaviors outside of meetings.”

Brudny also stated that anyone accused of violations of the Code of Conduct must have notice and an opportunity to be heard. Stating it was vague and incomplete, he added, “It’s not clear which body has the authority to censor who. It needs to be made clear whether the voting members can do that or the board does that.”

Brudny stated the document needed a lot of work both to clarify what type of behavior warranted censor and to remove those parts the he stated were unenforceable – such as required apologies and signatures. Brudny volunteered to help update the document saying “I am semi-retired and have more time. I am more than happy to work on it.”

VM Carl Longnecker (Villas of West Park Village) asked, “Does the antagonism still exist between the board [members]?”

Arrillaga replied “No, but this is a separate issue.”

Longnecker added, “The organization should never turn itself inside out because of a single issue.

VM Mary Griffin (Single Family Homes of Westpark Village) said, “At the last meeting, we weren’t discussing the incident at all. We just asked everyone to review the documents. We aren’t discussing the incident at all. This is a document that needs to be redone.” 

Noting that all VMs had been given a copy of the transcript from the Dec. 10 board meeting. Longnecker asked, “Why do we have a transcript in our packet?”

A motion to table the discussion further until the Code of Conduct is updated was unanimously approved.

Dale Sells then stood up to update the group on the Documents Review Committee saying that he had been elected chairman and VMs would be receiving an email to provide input on any updates. He explained that it will be a multiple month process.

WCA Director Joe Odda provided an update on the proposed David Weekley townhome development in West Park Village. He said, “The board will be considering a report of our meeting with David Weekley Homes. It has been a good discussion. I encourage you to come to the board meeting Thursday night. We will be discussing that report but a much better situation is emerging.”
Arrillaga told the group that WCA Director Brian Ross was at the meeting. He asked, “Brian, would you like to say something?”

Referencing WOW’s coverage of the April VM meeting, which detailed Sells’ criticism of him and Griffin’s failed motion to compel him to apologize, Ross replied, “This has been disturbing for me as an individual to read the article in the WOW.”

Ross asked if anyone had questions and no one did.

Alternate VM Keith Heinemann (Radcliffe) closed the meeting with a few public service announcements. Given worry about the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, Heinemann encouraged residents to drain areas of standing water, where mosquitoes can breed. He also urged everyone to get their voter registrations completed for upcoming elections.

VMs adjourned at 8:35 p.m.

By Brenda Bennett

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