If Orlando toll roads rile you, agency's politics should enrage you

If you're mad about paying high tolls, you should be furious about the politics brewing at the expressway authority.

Political appointees orchestrated a coup last week, ousting its executive director,who had actually cleaned up the scandal- and conflict-coated agency — and saved the authority money.

In case that sounds like the kind of inside baseball you couldn't care less about, let me direct your attention to the image on this page: a shiny quarter.

See, you have to pay more of those when the authority wastes money.

The authority has raised tolls twice in the past four years. So really, we're not talking just one shiny quarter. We're talking two at each tollbooth.

Two tollbooths per trip means $1 … round trip means $2 … five days a week means $10 … 50 weeks a year means $500. Just for the recent increases.

Now do you care about the shenanigans that went down last week?

The meeting of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority started pleasantly enough. In fact, it was supposed to be a celebration: 50 years of toll roads in Central Florida.

It was also celebrating being scandal-free. Long mired in bad bond deals, pay-for-play politics — a "culture of corruption," as a grand jury described it — the authority had finally cleaned up its act.

New Director Max Crumit had ushered in a new era of ethics and transparency.

He ousted the people behind the costly bond deals. He started posting all of the agency's financial transactions online. He aired the agency's board meetings on live TV.

He was watching your quarters. And, for the first time in many years, the authority was scandal-free.

This would not do.

Board member Scott Batterson — a Rick Scott appointee who took his seat under a cloud of controversy over admitted conflicts of interest — wanted Crumit gone.

Crumit told the board that Batterson had come to him a few days earlier and told him to either resign quietly or be fired by a "majority" of the board.

This seemed odd. Batterson isn't the chairman of the expressway board, and Florida "Government in the Sunshine" laws prohibit him from privately conspiring with other board members to line up votes.

So Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, a member of the board, called out Batterson on what seemed like a suspicious statement.

She asked Batterson at the meeting whether he had told Crumit he had the votes to fire him.

Batterson gave a nonanswer. So Jacobs asked again.

This time, Batterson offered a carefully stated denial. "I … [pause] … never suggested that I had any idea where the rest of the board stood."

 

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