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Sunshine violations cause TIA headaches

The agency that runs Tampa International Airport violated the state's open government law last year by failing to publish notice of two meetings where staffers ranked bids for work.

Those legal problems were fixed Friday when the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority staff ranked the proposals again — with postings on its Web site and an airport bulletin board. The agency even called to invite bidders to attend.

But the authority is trying to figure out if previous meetings were properly noticed. "We're only aware of these two," said David Smith, an attorney hired to investigate agency procedures. "We will look to see if there are other issues out there."

One bidder said Friday's ranking meeting was the first he knew of that was open to the public in 20 years of soliciting business from the authority. "I've never seen it done," said Kevin Smith, an owner of Fleischman and Garcia Architects and Planners in Tampa. "I just assumed they were closed."

The authority isn't required to inform bidders of meetings by phone or mail, just post a notice in a known public place, Smith said. The agency's governing board awarded multimillion-dollar projects to firms that scored highest in rankings performed at the illegal meetings.

Alfonso Architects was picked in January to design a $11.6 million makeover of curbsides outside the main terminal's ticketing and baggage claim areas. HC Beck was selected in February to expand and upgrade closed-circuit cameras that watch over critical security areas. The project will cost $8.1 million.

Both firms were also top-rated at the do-over meetings Friday, said airport spokeswoman Brenda Geoghagan. The board will vote again on the contracts at its Thursday meeting.

A tipster gave the agency's legal department information about the open meeting violations, she said. She didn't know if the person worked for the authority.

The airport has been awash in rumors and intrigue in recent weeks. After uncharacteristic criticism from board members, executive director Louis Miller abruptly resigned Wednesday. The board will vote Thursday on his request to work through April 23.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huetttel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Sunshine violations cause TIA headaches 02/26/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 26, 2010 11:19pm]
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