State Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, will be the next director of Orlando’s toll-road agency thanks to a contentious 3-2 vote of the authority board this morning.
Precourt, in Tallahassee attending committee meetings, was long considered the favorite for the top job at the Orlando Orange County Expressway Authority, and he prevailed when board member Noranne Downs cast the deciding ballot.
“I searched hard and long for what I believe in. … I believe Mr. Precourt is the right person for the job,” said Downs, who also runs the Florida Department of Transportation in Central Florida.
Precourt was opposed by Chairman Walter Ketcham and Orange County Mayor and board member Teresa Jacobs.
They said Precourt was not qualified and his appointment smacked of political favoritism. The agency’s credibility, they said, would be damaged as a result.
“We were just beginning to turn the corner and this sets us back,” Jacobs said.
Precourt’s biggest supporter was board member Scott Batterson, who said he considered one of the main qualifications for the job – that the winning applicant had eight years experience running a toll agency – a guideline, not a requirement.
Like fellow board member and supporter Marco Pena, Batterson praised Precourt’s political connections. Precourt has been in the state Legislature since 2006, but by law is prohibited from personally lobbying senators, representatives and state agency officials for two years after taking the authority post.
Batterson said Precourt – who by law will have to resign his legislative job – can overcome the ban about talking to state leaders and politicians by directing agency lobbyist on who to talk to and what to say.
One of the biggest issues facing the authority – which last year brought in more than $300 million in tolls – is a bill introduced into both chambers that calls for expanding the authority’s role from just Orange into Lake, Seminole and Osceola counties and renaming the operation the Central Florida Expressway System.