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Flowers off PSTA ‘whipping’ board amid Republican reshuffling

Mark Parker

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Commissioner Renee Flowers expressed her disappointment and dismay at being removed from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority's board. Incoming Commission Chair Kathleen Peters said the decision was not personal or politically motivated. Screengrab.

Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers, a Democrat, will not complete her two-year term as secretary-treasurer of a transit board embroiled in political turmoil.

Incoming Commission Chair Kathleen Peters decided to reassign Flowers to seven other boards and committees in 2024. Four Republican commissioners, including Peters, will join the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s 15-member governing board next year.

The changes coincide with recently filed legislation that would further consolidate the party’s power on the board. Commissioners approved Peters’ assignments Dec. 12, but not before Flowers – and the current chairperson – expressed their dismay.

“I have no idea why I was not reappointed,” Flowers said. “Again, very disappointed. I do feel like PSTA has been a whipping board for some things lately.”

Flowers broke the news to her PSTA colleagues at their Dec. 6 meeting. St. Petersburg City Councilmember Gina Driscoll became emotional as she expressed gratitude for Flowers’ service.

Driscoll called Flowers a “perfect fit” and credited her advocacy for the agency’s passengers. Others suggested that Peters replacing Flowers on the board was politically motivated.

Peters, who joined that meeting via Zoom, adamantly denied those allegations. Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Pete  Beach, recently sponsored a bill that would reduce PSTA’s board to 11 members.

However, it would keep the four commissioners, and the State Senate President and Speaker of the House – both Republicans – would appoint two members. Outgoing Commission Chair Janet Long spoke adamantly against Peters’ changes and said several constituents shared her concerns.

“I am very disappointed … to learn that the first actions she (Peters) chose to take were to remove Commission Flowers from the PSTA board,” Long said. “I found the recommendations to be punitive, disrespectful and incredibly disappointing.”

Long said the SunRunner – the region’s first bus rapid transit service connecting St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach – was meant to catalyze a 41-mile regional plan. She called Flowers’ reassignment another roadblock.

PSTA’s board will vote on a new secretary-treasurer early next year. Flowers disputed recent claims that the agency failed to utilize funding effectively or efficiently.

She expressed pride in helping PSTA receive $18 million in federal dollars for over 60 electric buses, a partnership with Duke Energy to install charging stations and several community initiatives. Flowers said it “befuddled” her to hear local officials criticize the SunRunner’s dedicated lanes after five years of planning.

“I have been in elected office since 1999, and I’ve never had an issue with money, no matter where I served,” Flowers said. “I took offense to that because I go through everything … I can tell you that every dollar has been accounted for.

“Public transportation is never meant to be a money grabber because it’s… meant for those who cannot afford transportation otherwise.”

Commissioners ranked their preference for board and committee assignments. PSTA topped Flowers’ list.

Commissioner Dave Eggers did not share the same sentiment. Eggers said he did not “jump for joy” to learn he would now serve on the agency’s board.

Peters said removing Flowers was not personal. Peters also noted she has never received her top-ranked assignment.

She, Eggers, and Commissioners Brian Scott and Chris Latvala will now serve on the agency’s board. Peters said it is “healthy to move people around. There seems to be this thought that myself and my colleagues want to derail PSTA, and I’m here to tell you that, in my opinion, that is not true,” Peters added.

Peters explained that she sought to assign commissioners according to their expertise. For Flowers, that means serving on the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee and Continuum of Care’s board, which advocates for homeless residents.

“I’m sorry you’re disappointed,” Peters said. “I’m sorry that it’s construed as this attack on PSTA. I really did put thought into this – it wasn’t just a willy-nilly kind of thing.”

Flowers upheld tradition and was among the six commissioners who voted to approve the assignments. Long was the lone “no” vote.

Correction: This story was corrected to reflect that Commissioner Brian Scott will continue serving on the PSTA board.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Lonely Ryder

    December 14, 2023at7:06 pm

    Throughout the years of Democratic control of the Pinellas County Commission, conservatives privately criticized PSTA as a boondoggle the real purpose of which was to pry money out of Washington DC in service of the “Progressive Pinellas” agenda. Now that they are controlling the County Commission, they are no longer so quiet about it. The “free ride to the beach” episode of earlier this year turned a bright light on the unintended consequences of bureaucratic “good ideas.” PSTA did it to inflate their ridership numbers. By being so sly about it, they irritated all the people who resent having to suffer those consequences.

  2. Avatar

    S. Rose Smith-Hayes

    December 14, 2023at5:56 pm

    The money has been spent and it is here. Let’s make the best use of the Sun Runner. I was not for it either but we need to find the best use for it. I disagree with Ms. Peters moving Commissioner Flowers and believe the move was ‘petty’ especially considering where she placed her. I just hope that everyone will put forth their best efforts for the citizens of Pinellas County. Commissioner Flowers, watch your back, I am praying for you.

  3. Avatar

    Vincent Cocks

    December 14, 2023at5:46 pm

    Correction please. Chair Peters did not remove the Commissioner Scott, who remains on the board. Mr Scott owns a private diesel bus charter service and is not a fan of electric buses. PSTA will be receiving 60 over the next 5 years as a result of the VW Settlement for falsification of emissions.

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