TAMPA (FOX 13) - Members of the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission are calling for an investigation of the man they hired to run their agency.
PTC chairman Victor Crist questions whether executive director Kyle Cockream has become a lobbyist for cab companies, at the expense of their competitors, Uber and Lyft.
Pricey trips to taxi-sponsored conferences in Las Vegas, Montreal and San Francisco, collaboration with cab drivers on public testimony against Uber and Lyft and a questionable relationship with a state legislator. These are just a few of the new revelations coming to light after a public records inquiry into Cockream's emails.
"There may be some ethical and or legal issues here and I think that we need to have an independent, outside investigation of these emails and of the behavior of our staff," said Crist.
Crist says he never had a reason to question Cockream, who is appointed by the PTC's board of elected officials, until now.
Cockream is paid by the PTC to regulate the transportation industry in Hillsborough County, but Crist questions whether Cockream may have his own agenda to support the taxi industry in its fight to keep competitors Uber and Lyft out of the market, and not just locally.
In April, Cockream testified at a West Palm Beach public hearing on ride sharing regulations. Emails reveal he'd been invited by West Palm cab company owner Brock Rosayn. In messages leading up to the hearing, taxi owners and Cockream swapped anti-uber news articles in emails with the subject line 'Uber info for meeting'. One taxi industry professional even signs off on an email to Cockream with 'good luck in West Palm'.
According to Crist, Cockream never told board members he planned to testify at the April 5 hearing. In fact, Crist says Cockream told board members he was going on a personal trip.
"It's pretty doggone clear that that is not the case, that he was invited to participate weeks in advance and coordinated with the cab companies and basically prepared his script in conjunction with them and I've got to tell you: the perception of that is really bad," said Crist.
In a response through his public relations firm on Monday, Cockream maintained his trip to south Florida was personal.
"While I was on the East Coast of Florida on a personal trip, over the weekend I was asked to speak at a Palm Beach County Commission meeting, which was held the following Tuesday," said in a statement.
West Palm commissioners aren't the only regulators hearing from Cockream.
In an email to state representative Kathleen Peters, Cockream shares links to unfavorable articles about ride sharing companies sent to him by cab company owners. In an April 1 email, Cockream tells Peters, "I hope these documents clearly outline the unethical business practices these companies have embraced."
Cockream is allowed to lobby legislators on behalf of the PTC, but is supposed to report his interactions to his chairman. Crist says Cockream never reported his interactions with Peters and, like the West Palm visit, Crist says Cockream appears to have crossed the line.
"To me it looks like he's been lobbying on behalf of the cab companies and that is totally inappropriate," said Crist.
In an emailed response through B2 Communications, Cockream said his actions are not lobbying efforts.
"It is part of my job to help legislators be aware of what the PTC does and how we help consumers. This is not designed to be a lobbying effort. It is part of our job at the PTC to be an information resource."
On Novemeber 9, PTC board members will vote on a new set of regulations for ride sharing companies Uber and Lyft. Crist, who has long been vocal about his hope to dissolve the PTC, says he plans to step down as chairman of the PTC after the meeting.