TAMPA (FOX 13) - The executive director of Hillsborough County's Public Transportation Commission will be at the center of an independent investigation following an emergency meeting held Tuesday.
The meeting was called by PTC Chairman Victor Crist after emailed revealed Kyle Cockream, the agency's Executive Director, had partnered with the taxi and limousine industry to set up ticketing stings that critics, like Crist, have said unfairly targeted drivers with ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft.
"It is clear to me that the public has lost trust and confidence in our agency," Crist said at the starting of the meeting. "I instructed our attorneys of the PTC to pull out what they considered to be problematic emails and provide them to me to review and I was shocked with what I saw."
Crist called for an independent investigation and wanted Cockream to be placed on paid administrative leave.
The discussion then quickly turned into a heated debate.
"Let's keep our eye on who the bad guy is here. Uber and Lyft are the ones that are breaking the rules," argued PTC Board Member Dave Pogorilich, who went on to compare the ride-sharing companies to some well-known criminals. "Bonnie and Clyde had a big fan club too, but at the end of the day they were just bank robbers."
The board gave Cockream an opportunity to defend himself during the meeting.
"This is a witch hunt. It's been a witch hunt from the beginning," Cockream said, adding the partnership with the taxi industry was a way for him to enforce the regulations set by the board. "This is absolutely a circus. This is an orchestrated circus that goes back quite some time."
Board member Frank Reddick accused Crist of having a vendetta against Cockream.
"This is a sham what is taking place this morning," Reddick said.
When it became clear that Crist and county attorneys came into the meeting already having had discussions with a potential interim executive director should Cockream be placed on leave, Reddick laid into Crist.
"This is a conspiracy here. You telling me that you have spoken with someone about this position and we haven't voted yet?" Reddick said. "How do you know we're going to make a decision today and ya'll have already spoken with someone...this is professional, unethical!"
"It is good preparation for staff to preempt concerns and issues of the board and be prepared to deal with them," Cirst fired back. "You have not done your homework or you would not be saying the things that you're saying."
The meeting lasted two hours and public comment was filled entirely by representatives of the taxi and limo industry who defended Cockream.
Crist's motion to place Cockream on administrative leave failed, but the board did agree to have an independent investigation.
"I have not been vindicated yet," Cockream said after the meeting. "If this commission did not talk about or forward with an inquiry of some sort by an independent council, it was on my agenda to do so on November ninth when we had our full board meeting and all the board members are going to be there. I welcome it and I can't say to you enough, I don't know how transparent to be. I issued thousands and thousands of documents, a month of public records requests. If anything I'm guilty, I'm guilty of being overly transparent."