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Agency overhaul

Published April 7, 2007


Bob Clark's resignation Friday from the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority raises only one question: What took so long? His business dealings clearly posed a conflict the board and its professional staff took pains to parse.

Our view, that the Legislature should disband an agency that has outlived its usefulness, is hardly changed by seeing Clark's departure become the agency's ticket to survival. But as it likely will continue to exist, Gov. Charlie Crist should take this opportunity to install better leadership.

Clark resigned days after acknowledging he had undisclosed business with an authority contractor after then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to the board in 2003. The news added to months of criticism over the agency's business and ethical practices. While his departure helps clear the air, the authority has a leadership void. The interim director, Stephen Reich, has made the agency more transparent. But what niche it serves as a transportation provider is anyone's guess, especially given the drive this year to create a regional authority to coordinate transit along the central Gulf Coast.

Reich appears to have made a compelling case in Tallahassee to spare the authority for two immediate reasons. Killing it, he argues, could raise the financing costs for area toll roads and complicate an ongoing lawsuit with an agency contractor. Those drawbacks are minor in the context of larger and long-term questions about the agency's role and whether it can act responsibly. But Reich's concerns are fair and as a practical matter will likely carry the day. The issue, then, is how to improve the management from here, which is where Crist can help through his power to appoint the board's majority.

Crist threw his support Thursday behind a Senate bill that would allow him to replace all four gubernatorial appointees on the seven-member board. The authority initially opposed the measure, saying replacing members this year instead of waiting for terms to expire would suggest instability to lenders. But this step would change personalities, not governance. The authority backed away from opposing the change after news of the latest revelations about Clark. Lawmakers should clear the way for Crist to set a new tone. The county has plenty of capable residents to serve. Whatever institutional history is lost is offset by fresh blood that comes without the baggage that is sapping public confidence.

[Last modified April 6, 2007, 21:57:08]

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