JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has been in the news for the wrong reasons several times recently.
The agency is most recognized for running the bus system, but it also handles roads and other transportation issues, all funded by millions of taxpayer dollars.
But the agency has been in the spotlight in the last month because of several problems.
A former employee was arrested this week. Ex-JTA project manager Robert Franques is accused of stealing more than $300,000 in a land deal that JTA and police claim just benefited him.
Franques' arrest warrant claims the money went right to his bank account, instead of the JTA fund it was intended for. He was fired in April.
Another employee, Keith Brown, was fired in June for misleading the city and JTA on a $5 million deal.
Brown, the brother of City Councilwoman Katrina Brown, was let go after three warnings.
And JTA has ties to Von Alexander, who has been linked to the criminal indictment of U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown. Alexander and her public relations agency did work for the congresswoman and also for JTA. There are strict federal laws against that because of conflicts of interest.
The I-TEAM also obtained emails from Alexander to JTA staffers showing that she was trying to solicit money from JTA for the questionable charity linked to Corrine Brown. That unregistered charity sparked the investigation into the congresswoman and her chief of staff.
Public relations expert Michael Munz, of the Dalton Agency, said it's important in situations like this for agencies like JTA to be proactive.
“You want to get in front of it, and you want to get the facts out there, and you want to be able to control the message as quickly and as best as you can,” Munz said.
A spokesperson said no one from the agency would be available to comment Thursday, but JTA did issue a statement:
As a multifaceted organization with hundreds of employees and around-the-clock operations serving thousands of customers daily, JTA is not immune to challenges. However, it is important to keep things in perspective.
In recent months there have also been a number of positive developments for JTA, such as receiving the 2016 Outstanding Public Transportation System Achievement Award from the American Public Transportation Association.
On Friday morning, we will open a fresh produce market at the Rosa Parks Transit Station in Downtown Jacksonville to benefit our customers still challenged by food deserts. We continue to earn the confidence of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) officials who recently approved our plan to enhance the quality of life for our customers in Northwest Jacksonville by reallocating $7.2 million for road and pedestrian improvements."