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Council members wonder what mayor is up to on Rays

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says playing at the Trop is not financially feasible, and he wants to explore stadium sites in Hillsborough County. But the mayor won’t allow it.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says playing at the Trop is not financially feasible, and he wants to explore stadium sites in Hillsborough County. But the mayor won’t allow it.

ST. PETERSBURG — A day after a disjointed meeting on the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, City Council members were still wondering Friday what Mayor Bill Foster is up to and whether he is being candid with them.

At Thursday's council meeting, Foster said he has a detailed plan to break a stalemate with the team over a new stadium, and that he has shared those details with council members.

A majority of council members were so taken aback they scheduled a workshop to learn more.

On Friday, most reiterated that they have no idea what Foster meant when he insisted that he had informed them of his plans. Some wondered whether he even has a plan. Some criticized him for lack of communication.

All but two said they definitely want more details.

"There's a major communication gap," said Wengay Newton. "(Foster) said there's nothing to report, but then, there's a secret plan and there's something in the works. So I'm confused. Is it nothing, is he just saying those things?"

Foster did not return a call seeking comment Friday.

Karl Nurse said he didn't know of any plan Friday and questioned whether one even existed.

The last conversation he had with Foster was six weeks ago and lasted 90 seconds, he said.

The message then was for Nurse not to talk about the Rays because it would undermine the city's legal position, he said.

"But that is not a plan," Nurse said. "I don't think we have a plan to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg, or if we have it, it's not apparent to me. We have a plan to have a strong position for when we sue each other, but it is not a plan for success."

The team and city are at loggerheads because Rays' owner Stuart Sternberg wants to explore stadium sites in Hills­borough County and Foster won't allow it.

Jeff Danner's account of one exchange with Foster typifies council concerns that the mayor is not keeping them in the loop.

Danner said Foster approached him on Aug. 12 during a Florida League of Cities Conference in Orlando — the day after council member Leslie Curran had asked city staff to update the council about "any plans/options that may exist to break the current stalemate."

"(Foster) said, 'There are things going on, there are things in the works,' " Danner said. "When I asked for details, he wouldn't say anything more. He left it with me that, as things formulate, we'll let you know."

Danner questioned the timing of Foster's disclosure on the heels of Curran pushing for the council to have a greater role in Rays' discussions.

"If he has something big that because of privacy he needs to keep quiet, that's one thing," Danner said. "But if it's a matter of him throwing something out there just to make it look like he's doing something, then I have a problem with that."

Council Chairman Jim Kennedy and council member Bill Dudley said they are satisfied with Foster's level of communication.

Dudley said that a few months ago Foster told him the city was "waiting to engage the Rays and they were working on something, but (Foster) didn't go into any details with me and that's fine. I'm of the opinion that we will know something when we need to know it."

The council does have the power to amend the city's contract with the Rays, which binds the team to Tropicana Field through the 2027 season. Sternberg has said playing at the Trop is not financially feasible.

Curran, who couldn't be reached Friday, said during Thursday's meeting that she didn't see Foster doing anything to keep the Rays from leaving town. That's when Foster revealed he has a detailed plan.

Steve Kornell said he's been urging Foster and administrators to come up with an idea to keep the Rays in St. Petersburg.

"I got very vague answers, like, 'Oh, we are working on things,' " Kornell said. "But I definitely never heard the mayor say anything about a detailed plan."

Kornell speculated that Foster might have something in the works.

"Maybe they are talking to a developer and at this point it would be premature to announce something," Kornell said. "Maybe it will all come out eventually and it will make sense."

Herb Polson said he wants to meet with Foster next week.

"I want to sit down and have a talk and see if I can have him tell me his definition of a 'detailed plan,' " Polson said. "It's an extraction process. He's not as free with information as the other mayors that I've worked with. He's not a great communicator."

City Attorney John Wolfe said the workshop the council requested hasn't been scheduled yet. He said it will focus on the city's contract with the Rays.

On Friday, the Times requested any public records about any plan related to the Rays or a new stadium that the mayor referred to during Thursday's meeting.

"I don't know of anything in writing that exists anywhere in the city," Wolfe replied.

Two other administrators provided similar responses.

There are "no public documents to provide," said Dave Metz, the city's director of downtown enterprise facilities.

"I have no public records related to this request," said David Goodwin, the city's director of economic development.

His boss, Rick Mussett, senior administrator of city development, was on vacation and has not yet responded to the request.

Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or mvansickler@sptimes.com. Stephen Nohlgren can be reached at (727) 893-8442 or nohlgren@sptimes.com.

Council members wonder what mayor is up to on Rays 08/19/11 [Last modified: Friday, August 19, 2011 10:45pm]
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