Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Deceiving the public deserves a grand jury

I have to confess, I had not heard of the "fake agenda item" trick before.

Gotta hand it to Rick Baker, mayor of St. Petersburg, and his staff.

Gotta hand it to Jamie Bennett, chairman of the City Council.

This is how naive I am. It never occurred to me that you could use the agenda of a City Council meeting itself to deceive the public.

But at the council's June 19 meeting, they used the agenda to hide the city's decision to chip in $12.7-million toward a $34.4-million taxpayer handout to Jabil Circuit.

It was cleverly done. First, a few days beforehand, the city staff gave a private "briefing" to each City Council member individually.

Next, they waited until a few hours before the June 19 meeting and put a late item on the agenda, with the fake name "Project Extreme."

They even put it in the "consent" portion of the agenda — items so routine they are approved in a single batch.

The City Council voted it through with no discussion.


There are three separate issues here. Do not mix them up, the way that the city hopes that you will mix them up.

The first issue is the loophole in state law that does allow secret negotiations for "economic development." (That was how the city kept the Rays' waterfront baseball stadium secret for seven months last year.)

The second issue is whether it is a good idea to give Jabil Circuit a big wad of cash to try to get the company to stay.

But even if paying Jabil is a good idea, the third issue is that it does not justify the city's deception — sneaking a $12.7-million decision past the public.

If this is not a violation of Florida's law concerning open government, it is a trampling of the law's spirit.

But wait, there's more.

Bennett, the council chairman, said in the paper that he knew about the Jabil deal well in advance —because Baker told him.

That made me sit up and bark, and I'll tell you why.

Last year, supposedly, the City Council didn't know a gosh-darned thing for seven months about that secret stadium deal with the Tampa Bay Rays — because that state law said that the mayor's folks couldn't tell the council.

Secondly, it is worth noting that even a week after this vote, a senior member of Baker's staff publicly denied that there was a Jabil deal.

So tell me: Why should the taxpayers of St. Petersburg believe anything the city says or does now?

It is time for Bernie McCabe, the Pinellas-Pasco state attorney.

Last year, the state attorney convened a grand jury that investigated the county government.

The grand jury issued a constructive and much-needed report —called a "presentment" — that educated the public and recommended corrections.

The perverted secrecy that has grown to typify St. Petersburg's government over the past year and a half is likewise ripe for a grand jury, serving as a public conscience.

Fake agenda items to deceive the public? Private briefings that replace public discussion of public business?

The city has gone too far. The city has lost its way.

• • •

If you'd like to talk about this or other current issues, join me for a live chat from noon to 1 p.m. today on TroxBlog. The address is

Deceiving the public deserves a grand jury 07/07/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 9, 2008 5:38pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii


    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan


    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville


    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that ‘both sides” bore blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer


    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry


    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.