St. Pete baseball campaign to whip up support for Rays closed to public
A committee of about three dozen civic, business and public officials met Friday afternoon for the second time to figure out how to generate public support to keep the Tampa Bay Rays in St. Petersburg, or at least Pinellas County.
But the public wasn't invited.
The Tampa Bay Times was denied access the meeting, which was billed as an update on strategies to engage the public and corporate leaders, because it wasn't an open meeting under the Sunshine Law, according to city officials.
Mayor Rick Kriseman and St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Chris Steinocher picked the members, which include St. Petersburg City Council member Ed Montanari and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch. But, since the three elected officials represent three different political bodies---the mayor's office, the city council and the county commission---it wasn't a public meeting, city officials said.
Case law is undecided on that point, said Times attorney Alison Steele. The fact that so many people are involved, appointed, at least in part by the mayor, and including a member of the St. Petersburg CIty Council is "troubling," she said.
"It's not like it's a meeting of the mayor's garden club," she said. Matter discussed or decided by the group might be taken up again later by the city council or county commission, she added.
Kriseman spokesman Ben Kirby pointed to a Hillsborough group led by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan as also having non-public meetings. That group has only two elected officials and is identifying and selecting potential stadium sites.
The Baseball Forever campaign is adamant that the Trop is the best place for baseball.
Firday's meeting at Great Bay Distributors in St. Petersburg was billed as a "campaign leaders meeting". Rays president Brian Auld spoke and answered questions. City development officials Alan DeLisle and Dave Goodwin delivered an update on master plan to redevelop Tropicana Field with or without a ballpark.
Sub-groups on corporate recruitment, small business recruitment, marketing and promotion, community and civic engagement and transportation and infrastructure gave reports.
At least that was the plan according to an agenda provided to the Tampa Bay Times after the meeting by "Baseball Forever," coordinator Rick Mussett.
Mussett said the gathering "generated a great deal of enthusiasm" and reminded him of the initial efforts to attract a major-league franchise to the city in the 1980s.
Auld said after the meeting on Friday that he was impressed by the group's energy. The Rays don't believe they will miss any opportunity to identify and explore the potential of any sites on either side of the bay, he said.
The Hillsborough group has identified nine potential sites for a new ballpark,
Has Kriseman made a strategic error in concentrating the Baseball Forever's campaign on marketing the Trop as the best site for a new ballpark?
"Each county has been going about the process in a way that they feel is best for them," Auld said.
In late April, State Sen. Jack Latvala blasted Kriseman for the St. Pete-centric composition of the campaign. Soon after, Kriseman invited Welch be a member of the group.
"Kriseman heard that message loud and clear. That's why Welch was here today," Auld said Friday.
Mussett said the public will have ample access to information. After the meeting, he provided the Times with copies of reports delivered at the meeting.