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Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority troubles are nothing new

History of controversy plagues Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority

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On May 20, State Attorney Jeff Ashton released 543 pages worth of evidence revealing corruption in the ranks of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority. The documents revealed that the authority, which has jurisdiction over toll roads in Orlando and Orange County, has been a political pawn for its board members, who allegedly used it to push work to pals and control lucrative contracts. Shocking? Only if you don’t know the history of the authority, which has seen lots of controversy since its inception. Here’s a quick rundown of the authority’s past, much of it courtesy of its own internal historical document, “Building a Community: The History of the Orlando-Orange County Expressway.”

1963: Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority is established so the Bee Line Expressway can be built. Heavy lobbying by Martin Anderson, publisher of the Morning Sentinel, helps it along. It promptly begins making plans to build lots more toll roads around Orlando, including the 408 and 417.

1971: While Expressway Authority chairman Richard Fletcher is out of town, his fellow board members hold a hasty meeting replacing him and the board’s general counsel, J. Fenimore Cooper Jr. Fletcher is replaced by member Ralph Poe and Cooper is replaced by Poe’s pal, Winter Park attorney and incumbent Mayor Dan Hunter. It does not go unnoticed that the extensive legal work the authority would be involved in could be very lucrative for a well-connected firm like Hunter’s. After criticism, particularly by the Orlando Sentinel Star, Hunter and Poe grumpily step down from their positions.

1973: Politics interfere with the board again when its members elect a new chairman is elected without the support of then Gov. Reuben Askew, who expresses his unhappiness. The new chair resigns, and the previous chairman he replaced is re-installed. A Sentinel Star headline reads: “Enough political bickering: Let’s abolish Expressway Authority.”

1976: Noting recent months of inactivity, Sentinel Star once again calls for authority’s abolition.

1988: South Orange Community Council files suit against the authority’s plans to build an I-4 connector against the wishes of the community, noting that the “strategy of the Expressway Authority is to keep the public in the dark as much as possible.”

1989: B.J. West, a fund-raiser for Gov. Bob Martinez, is named chair of the Expressway Authority board. In 1990, the Sentinel publishes an investigative report alleging that she mingled campaign and authority business and steered contracts to firms that donated to the Martinez campaign. West is eventually indicted on charges of grand theft and misuse of office.

2004: County Commissioner Teresa Jacobs proposes putting more elected officials on the Expressway Authority’s board to require it to be more accountable to the public. Her plan fails.

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