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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Pinellas decides to keep firms seeking incentives secret



CLEARWATER -- Not knowing the names of companies seeking public tax incentives is fine with a majority of the Pinellas County Commission.

Commissioners Calvin Harris, Susan Latvala, John Morroni and Ken Welch decided to keep that current policy in place. The policy allows companies to elect to keep their identities secret from commission members when the board votes whether to provide tax incentives for relocations or expansions. Only economic development staffers know.

"I think we're just asking for trouble. Why, why would we need to know?" Latvala asked.

But this spring, Commissioner Karen Seel voted against approving incentives to a company without knowing its name, prompting this afternoon's debate (and this Times editorial). The company ended up in St. Petersburg.

"I think we are the overseers of taxpayers money," Seel said, noting a commissioner might hear more information than county staffers receive about a company seeking the incentives.

But other commissioners worried over facing lawsuits or prosecution for disclosing secrets protected by state law. The protections happen to provide another benefit, economic development chief Mike Meidel said:

"It takes the pressure off you from the press. You can't disclose what you don't know," Meidel said.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:06pm]


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