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All For Transportation volunteers not deterred by lawsuit threat

The All For Transportation campaign is standing by its referendum charter language that voters approved last month raising sales tax 1 percent to fund transit and transportation improvements after news of a potential lawsuit emerged this week.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White told WTSP News Channel 10 he was planning to file a suit blocking the referendum because its citizen-led oversight committee usurps elected official authority.

The sales tax charter details who should comprise the oversight committee and what that board’s authority will be. The committee includes non-elected Hillsborough residents with expertise in a variety of applicable fields like land use, real estate, accounting and law.

The committee is charged with auditing spending plans from the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace, Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, which will be receiving revenue from the tax.

The oversight committee does not determine projects or determine how revenue should be spent, but would ensure proposed plans align with the defining tax charter.

It’s not clear how White plans to outline his argument because a suit has not yet been filed, but based on the charter language it seems possible lawyers would argue the oversight committee veto power undermines elected board decisions.

The All For Transportation referendum 57-43 percent.

“It is difficult to respond to a lawsuit we have not seen, but we’re confident the All for Transportation plan, overwhelming approved by Hillsborough County voters, will withstand any legal scrutiny,” said Brian Willis, a Tampa attorney and All For Transportation volunteer.

“The independent oversight committee was set up with the sole purpose of making sure politicians like Commissioner White cannot fund pet projects, and to ensure the will of the voters is followed.”

White’s proposed lawsuit would be against the county, which means the Hillsborough County Commission would have to hire outside counsel — a cost for taxpayers.  

“Voters demanded safer roads, reduced traffic congestion and expanded transit options so that everyone in the county, no matter where they live, benefits,” Willis continued.

“Why does Commissioner White want less oversight, what is he afraid of and why would he not want citizens watching how their money is spent? This lawsuit will only cost taxpayers more money while delaying the improvements needed to save lives and prevent accidents in our community.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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