My friends on the St. Petersburg City Council are being deliberately dumb about this secret Jabil Circuit deal.
At least, let's hope it's deliberate.
They keep defending what they did by saying, over and over, that it was a good deal.
But that's the second issue.
Here is the first issue:
They. Sneaked. It. Through.
(1) They met privately, in one-on-one sessions with the mayor's staff, to discuss it in advance.
(2) It was not on the public version of the council's June 19 meeting agenda (and is not there on the city's Web site to this day).
(3) They added it to the agenda in the final hours before the meeting.
(4) They put it on the "consent" agenda, intended for routine matters that are not discussed separately, under a code name.
(5) They approved it without discussion.
So the existence and approval of this deal, code-named "Project Extreme," were invisible, at least until it came out in the paper.
Yes, the law allows the terms of these deals to be negotiated in secret. The law even protects the name of the company getting the deal.
But the deal itself …
The City Council is not the CIA. It does not have a "black" budget. The city cannot hand out millions of dollars of the public's money while hiding the fact it is doing it.
Contrast this with the Pinellas County Commission's handling of the county's share of the Jabil deal.
The commission, having learned from the Jim Smith scandal, discussed the deal in public and at least debated it before approving it.
The other day, I was part of a conversation with Jamie Bennett, the council chairman. I like him. The main subject of the conversation was the homeless, an important cause to him.
When the talk turned to Jabil, Bennett started in with the same defense used by several council members — the council's hands were tied, the deal was confidential, the council must rely on Mayor Rick Baker's staff, Jabil is an important employer.
The council's hands are not tied when it comes to running its own meeting. It is long past time that the council, not the mayor, decides what the council is going to do.
The council does not have to accept secret, one-on-one briefings from Rick Baker or his staff. The council controls its own agenda. The council is just as free as the County Commission to discuss the public's business — in public.
Bennett thought about this. "Does our process need fixing? You're probably right," he said.
When told of the County Commission's open discussion of the same Jabil deal, he said, "It's refreshing to know that's out there."
One lone council member, Karl Nurse, has raised questions about how the Jabil deal was handled. The council is scheduled to discuss it.
"I believe that when we do hear this," Bennett said, "I'll bring this up."
The public is entitled to know what the agenda of its City Council really says.
The public is entitled to watch its City Council learn about, discuss and debate the public's business — in public.
No more private briefings.
No more secret agendas.
No more midnight changes.
No more multimillion-dollar deals sneaked through the consent agenda.
That's the first issue.