Ex-Buc Selected To Be Free Agent In Transit Leadership
TAMPA - Dozens of people applied to be members of the newly formed Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority board.
They included engineers, a high-ranking manager at Raymond James Financial Inc., a former state representative, and a former New York state transit official. On their applications, some wrote passionately about their desire to help shape the future of mass transit in the Tampa Bay area.
From among that pool Gov. Charlie Crist chose Shelton Quarles, the former linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to lead the board. On his application, Quarles left blank the questions that asked about his reasons for applying, and his interests and experiences that made him a suitable candidate for the volunteer post.
Asked last week why he applied, he said he has a general interest in transportation.
'I understand the stress of commuting and trying to get my kids to school,' he said.
Picking Quarles to lead the board was bewildering to more than a few people who follow transportation.
'It's a complicated topic, and it takes a lot of effort,' said former Hillsborough County commissioner and longtime rail advocate Ed Turanchik, who applied but was not selected. 'For Shelton or anyone else like him, there's a huge amount of learning to do, and there's no staff to help him.'
The regional authority was created by the Legislature in May to forge a mass transit strategy for the region by July 2009. That involves creating a plan to relieve congestion and a funding formula to implement that plan.
By legislative decree, 11 of the board members are to be drawn from governmental bodies across the region, and four are to be appointed by the governor, including the chairman.
Last month, Crist announced three of the four appointees: Quarles as chairman, and former Tampa City Council member Shawn Harrison and Sarasota banker Michael Bullerdick as board members. A fourth appointee is yet to be named.
Getting Into The Game
As chairman, Quarles will be responsible for presiding over meetings, briefing elected officials and the public about the authority's progress and helping to build consensus among members.
That plan largely will be created by the state Department of Transportation, but authority members will guide its development. It will be the blueprint for a transportation network in seven counties: Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.
Quarles said he intends to get up to speed by reading and talking with experts. He met last week with the Tampa Bay Partnership, the economic development group that pushed for the authority's passage in the Legislature.
Quarles, 36, played 10 years for the Bucs after graduating from Vanderbilt University, where he studied human and organizational development.
'The dumb jock theory definitely doesn't apply to me,' he said.
He lives in Tampa's Westchase community and commutes to One Buc Place, where he's a team scout.
Quarles said he'll have to brush up on local transportation issues, but like other motorists, he already has formed some opinions. Mass transit must be part of the conversation, but expanded roadways should be included as well, he said.
'It's all on the table,' he said. 'For commerce in our area to keep growing, we must continue to make our area attractive to businesses and tourists. We can't do that with congested roads.'
Crist Shies Away From Bias
One reason Quarles was chosen was that he doesn't represent any particular industry or political viewpoint, a Crist spokeswoman said.
'The governor wanted someone who is not tied to any engineering firms or developers or law firms. There has been trouble with some of these transportation authorities,' spokeswoman Erin Isaac said.
Joining Quarles on the board, in addition to Harrison and Bullerdick, are Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Pinellas County Commission chairman Ronnie Duncan, Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan, Pasco County Commission chairwoman Ann Hildebrand, Citrus County Commissioner John Thrumston, Manatee County Commissioner Amy Stein, Hernando County Commissioner Dave Russell, and Sarasota County Commission chairwoman Nora Patterson.
Their first meeting with Quarles as chairman is scheduled for Oct. 26.
Board members said transportation experience isn't necessary to run the meetings and get a plan approved before the deadline and that they welcome the addition of Quarles to the board.
'It was a little bit of a surprise to folks,' said Duncan, who served as the authority's de facto chairman for the past two months. 'But he's a bright guy and is very passionate about Tampa Bay as a region.'