Expressway-authority board needs to get real -- fast

Today, we'll see whether leaders at the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority are interested in cleaning up their own mess and restoring their credibility.

So far, this beleaguered agency has lumbered from one scandalous revelation to another, offering halfhearted reforms and then having the gall to call for a toll increase.

It's like an unrepentant alcoholic walking into an AA meeting and asking group members to start paying his bar tabs.

These folks need a cold shower.

So let's talk about what needs to happen today.

•Management needs a change. How much true reform can you have when the people running the agency during the "culture of corruption" are still there? Executive Director Mike Snyder was supposedly in charge when the grand jury said things were at their worst. That suggests Snyder was either ignorant, involved or impotent. Former board member Harvey Massey described current management as "either oblivious to the world they work in or they are participants in the political chicanery."

•It's not just Snyder. After the agency's own internal auditor went public, saying the authority was more interested in posturing than real reform, he was verbally accosted by the agency's own staff. According to a memo from former auditor Glenn Holloway, construction director Ben Dreiling barged into Holloway's office and called the Tennessee native "a [expletive] piece of [expletive]" from a place "where people sleep with their sister." Since then, the internal auditor left. But the cussing construction exec is still there — though he did get an unpaid suspension for five days ... and instructions to attend anger-management classes. (Hmm, wonder why there hasn't been more reform from within?)

•Pass real ethics reform. Authority officials should be prohibited from seeking — in any way — political contributions from vendors, whose livelihoods may depend upon the authority. This should be common sense. But apparently, at the authority, common sense needs to be formally adopted to take effect.

•Watch out for the committee of death. A popular tactic for politicians under fire is to try to ship controversies off to committees to die slow deaths.

•Crotty should pass the gavel. Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty currently serves as chairman of the authority. But if he wants people to take him seriously when he talks about reform, he'll let someone else run the show. Crotty, you see, was listed as a prime beneficiary of what the grand jury called an "organized shakedown." So he's not the one best suited to cast stones at others.

Crotty's defense is that he never knew how shady things had really gotten. Well, he can make that point — and still take responsibility for it happening on his watch anyway. This could be a defining moment for Crotty. He doesn't need this albatross around his neck any more than the community does — especially if he wants to accomplish anything else. He could pass his reforms and then step down on a more positive note.

•Either fix things or repeal the toll increase. Without genuine reform, the authority has no business asking drivers for more money. They have not yet earned the trust. And if the excuse for a toll increase is that agency finances are now dire, it's time to hold accountable those who let it get that way.

Basically, we'll learn this morning whether the authority wants to continue business as usual.

Authority vice chair Tanya Juarez has been a lone voice in calling for strong and real reform. And today, she is slated to make several motions calling for just that.

The reaction from her fellow board members will be telling.

Will they speak up for toll payers and side with good government?

Or will they sit silent, pass only minimal "reform" and placate some of the very people named in the grand-jury report?

That would be business as usual for this town.

And while that business has been awfully profitable for some of the insiders and their political patrons, it sure hasn't worked out well for the rest of us.

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