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Thursday, May 25, 2017
Politics

Sheriff finishing Go Hillsborough probe, release set next month

TAMPA — The Sheriff’s Office has completed most of the work in its investigation of the Go Hillsborough transportation plan but the results won’t be made public until mid-January.

County Administrator Mike Merrill, in an e-mail Tuesday afternoon, told county commissioners the investigation was complete. He later sent an e-mail to the Tribune clarifying that only “field work” is done, including interviews and document analysis.

“Technically, the investigation is ongoing until the sheriff issues the final report,” Merrill said.

Sheriff’s spokesman Larry McKinnon said once all parts of the investigation are wrapped up, a copy of the final report will be sent to the State Attorney’s Office for final review.

“We will notify the public and media via a press release when the investigation is completed and finalized by the SAO,” McKinnon said in an e-mail.

Merrill said when he has the final report he will brief the transportation Policy Leadership Group, which consists of county commissioners, mayors of Hillsborough’s three cities and the chairman of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit board. The group has been meeting for two years, trying to develop a comprehensive transportation plan that voters would support with a half-cent-per-dollar sales tax increase.

The policy group OK’d a public outreach program late last year that was called Go Hillsborough. After dozens of public meetings, town halls and focus groups, the program became mired in allegations of cronyism in the hiring of engineering firm Parsons Brinckerhoff to lead the effort.

Critics said Parsons Brinckerhoff was hired at the behest of well-connected Tampa public relations contractor Beth Leytham, whom the engineering firm later hired to handle communication.

The allegations stirred such divisiveness that on Sept. 21, Merrill asked Sheriff David Gee to investigate the hiring of Parsons Brinckerhoff.

A clean investigative report could be enough to garner a fourth vote among commissioners in favor of a sales tax referendum Nov. 1. The commission is tied at three votes in favor of the referendum and three against. Victor Crist is the only member who says he is undecided.

Crist said if the report comes back clean, it will have some impact on his vote but it won’t be the deciding factor. He wants Merrill to submit a scaled-back plan that delivers at least 80 percent of what the public wants.

“He needs to deliver a positive, recognizable, document that results in the fixes that our people want,” Crist said.

msalinero@tampatrib.com

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