TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The energy in the room had all the makings of a high-profile political drama. People were pacing. Politicians were fidgety. Some of them looked anxiety ridden; others seemed annoyed.
The stage was set for an epic showdown, and the attendees did not disappoint. The tension-filled gathering in the Hillsborough County government building was an emergency meeting of the Public Transportation commission, called by Chair Victor Crist. Crist wanted to address recent allegations of ethics issues involving PTC Director Kyle Cockream.
8 On Your Side has been following the controversy surrounding the PTC and ride-hailing companies, such as Uber and Lyft. The controversy has been heavily discussed in both social and political circles in the Tampa Bay area, as well as documented in the media.
News Channel 8 uncovered emails that suggest a very chummy relationship between Cockream and cab companies, which the PTC is tasked with regulating. The emails have led to allegations of favoritism. The emails seemed to outline encouragement and suggestions by Cockream to a cab driver. The emails talk about fighting the ride-hailing craze in Tampa.
Right now, Uber and Lyft are technically illegal. However, drivers operate in droves and are busier than ever.
Cockream claims he isn’t on anyone’s side but his own. He told 8 On Your Side Tuesday morning he must “enforce” the law. He responded to allegations of favoritism by saying, “I am absolutely guilty of showing favoritism to those who are operating legally.”
The meeting started out with a public comment period. The PTC director said that period turned into “a witch hunt.”
Crist led the charge, what appeared to be a coup against his colleague. There were several options on the table, presented by PTC lawyers. The options included termination, resignation and administrative leave with pay.
Crist’s push to remove Cockream was voted down by fellow commission members. “This is not a personal thing; it’s a professional thing,” Crist maintains. “It’s about ethics. Read his emails. It’s about truthfulness.”
Those who opposed Crist’s efforts to remove Cockream began trading insults and jabs, calling Crist’s pleas to the PTC, “a diatribe” and an “orchestrated” plan. What the commission did agree on is that an outside third-party needs to come in and conduct a thorough review of the PTC.
8 On Your Side has been following the controversial case for months, reaching out time and time again to Cockream, even waiting for him at public events to address the allegations of ethical misconduct and favoritism. While he has avoided our cameras all this time, he finally spoke with News Channel 8 after the meeting.
“This was a witch hunt. When someone starts off by telling you it’s not a witch hunt, you know it’s a witch hunt. I have been offered money to walk away from this (and I refused), and I’m still here. If you want, I will open my bank account for you, showing full transparency. We need to regain the trust of the public. That’s what we are here for,” Cockream said.
Ultimately, in the end, Cockream kept his director position and plans to continue “enforcing” the law and ticketing Uber drivers if they fail to obey the law. “This was a circus and a witch hunt. I’m not going to participate in the circus. I want to do the right thing,” he s