TAMPA — Trouble is brewing again at the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission, an obscure regulatory agency that can’t seem to avoid public scrutiny.
The latest controversy involves PTC executive director Cesar Padilla, who has been moonlighting as a reserve sheriff’s deputy, providing security for a used machinery auction.
The part-time job isn’t a violation of PTC regulations, but the commission’s chairman, County Commissioner Victor Crist, thinks it should be.
“It’s not reasonable and customary for a chief operating officer and chief executive officer to be moonlighting,” Crist said.
Crist, a former state legislator, was even more annoyed to discover Padilla hadn’t listed the $6,006 in extra income he made last year on a state financial disclosure form. The legally required forms have a section for listing “sources of secondary income.”
Crist said Padilla told him he would amend the report to reflect the income from his second job. The Supervisor of Elections Office said the state traditionally has a generous grace period for making corrections to the financial disclosure forms.
Still, the commission chairman was concerned enough to ask County Attorney Chip Fletcher on Thursday to research whether Padilla’s second job and failure to report the income from it was severe enough to call an emergency meeting of the PTC board. The next regular meeting is a month from now.
Hillsborough’s transportation commission inspects and licenses cabs, wreckers, ambulances and other vehicles for hire. It was created by state statute; no other Florida county has a similar agency.
Though other public officials have called for the agency’s abolishment, Crist is a staunch defender, saying the PTC protects the public from unscrupulous companies and unsafe vehicles.
But the chairman and executive director have been at odds over reforms Crist wants to institute. Crist said he also is resisting Padilla’s request for a substantial salary increase.
Padilla is out of the office this week on vacation and could not be reached for comment. But his chief inspector, Mario Tamargo, confirmed that Padilla works once a month at Tampa Machinery Auction on U.S. 301 in Thonotosassa.
“I never worked it, but I know a lot of guys that have done that over the years,” said Tamargo, a former sheriff’s deputy. “That’s a sheriff’s office, off-duty job.”
Sheriff’s office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the sheriff has a office that handles calls from businesses that need an off-duty or reserve deputy for security duty. Tamargo is a reserve deputy, but gets no pay from the sheriff’s office, Carter said.
County documents show Padilla made $28 an hour working security at the auction. So far this year, he’s been paid $4,396.
The transportation agency made headlines in 2011 when its chairman, County Commissioner Kevin White, was convicted on federal corruption charges. White was found guilty of taking bribes from a wrecker company that wanted to get on a towing rotation used by the sheriff’s office. The “owner” of the wrecker company was an FBI undercover agent.
It was White who pushed to elevate Padilla, then PTC chief inspector, to director of the agency. White won board approval to make Padilla interim director and to raise his salary from $40,000 to $106,360. Padilla later was given the job full time, though he was still working on his college diploma, a requirement for the directorship.
Crist said he is going to push for background investigations of all the PTC employees, in part to see if anyone else is moonlighting. But Fletcher told him the county attorney’s office doesn’t have the manpower to do the investigations and the transportation commission would have to hire an outside company to do the job. Crist said he has to get the rest of the transportation commission’s approval to hire the outside agency.
“I’m trying to turn this agency in a positive direction and make sure all the checks and balances are in place so that it operates with the highest standards and security,” Crist said.