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    All eyes can watch transit decisions

    The PSTA, keeper of $36-million a year, plans to televise meetings so bus riders and others can stay informed.

    By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 7, 2003


    Most working class folks can't make it to a government meeting that starts at 9 a.m. Wednesdays.

    But if you were interested in the multimillion-dollar decisions of the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority, then 9 a.m. the third Wednesday of the month was your best bet.

    Until now.

    Starting this month, the transit authority will televise its meetings and join the ranks of every major government entity in Pinellas County by giving the tax-paying public a meeting alternative.

    "We make a lot of decisions that affect mass transit in Pinellas County and spend a huge amount of money," said John Bryan, a PSTA board member and a St. Petersburg council member.

    Televising the meetings was Bryan's idea.

    "We need to let the citizens see what we are doing," he said.

    There are logistical problems.

    The PSTA headquarters at 14840 49th St. N, near the county jail, is not set up for televised meetings. An outside vendor must come in, set up cameras and microphones and tape the meetings. Bob South Productions will create a TV-ready tape to be distributed to every municipal agency that has a contract with cable television.

    It's up to individual cities to make sure the two- to three-hour PSTA meetings get on the air. But if cities don't respond, PSTA won't spend the $2,000 or so per meeting to get the tapes made, said executive director Roger Sweeney.

    "Why spend $2,000 if you're only going to get one city to show it once a month?" Sweeney said.

    The PSTA will tape meetings as a trial for a few months, Sweeney said. If everything works out, the agency will seeks bids for a full year's taping and distributing, he said.

    Oldsmar Council member David Tilki, who is on the PSTA board, agrees that the meetings ought to be televised.

    "Most hard-working people don't have time to come to our meetings," Tilki said. "It can only be a positive thing."

    The PSTA has an annual budget of $36-million. Last year, PSTA directors voted to spend $365,000 to start an Ulmerton Road express bus service to Tampa and approved construction of a $46-million headquarters.

    Those sorts of decisions are best made with as much public input as possible, said Pinellas County Commissioner Calvin Harris, who also is on the PSTA board.

    "The people who are interested are people who ride the bus," Harris said. "The board is really excited about getting the meetings out there and being held accountable."

    -- Adrienne Samuels can be reached at (727) 445-4157 or samuels@sptimes.com .

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