Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough commissioners seek legal advice about talking to Tampa Bay Rays

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners Wednesday asked their attorney to tell them, effectively, if they can dance with St. Petersburg's date.

Commissioners voted 6-1 to ask Interim County Attorney Don Odom to review the contract that governs the Tampa Bay Rays' commitment to the city of St. Petersburg and Tropicana Field.

They want to know whether they can talk to team owners about how long they intend to keep playing there and to see what can be done to ensure the Rays stay in the region.

Or would such an entreaty amount to "tortious interference" in someone else's business dealings — a form of meddling St. Petersburg City Attorney John Wolfe has said would leave the meddlers "individually" liable for monetary damages?

"I do not believe the agreement prevents discussion with the Rays about their future," said commission Chairman Ken Hagan, who initiated the question.

Hagan said he has reviewed the agreement. But he's not a lawyer, so he wants one to advise him. He gave no timeline but expressed frustration that since he first made overtures about the team two years ago, there has been little movement.

Rays owners have said repeatedly they cannot continue playing at Tropicana Field through the end of their contract with St. Petersburg, which is 2027. A business coalition that studied the issue suggested the team might be better off in Tampa, closer to more people and potential corporate supporters.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has said the team is bound by its contract, period, and others should butt out. And Wolfe, his city's attorney, has had this pithy response to people who have talked of courting the team to Hillsborough: "More defendants."

Hillsborough Commissioner Al Higginbotham, the lone vote against consulting his county's attorney, said he thinks his fellow board members are "walking on thin ice." He then offered his own adaptation of an analogy first uttered by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and co-opted and twisted by others since.

"If we're going to be the boyfriend that breaks up the marriage, I'm not going to take part in that," Higginbotham said. "Because (the husband) could have a big fist and a very strong arm."

Other commissioners also expressed caution, while supporting Hagan's request to get information — a tradition the board has generally honored.

They said they want to make sure that if the attorney says county officials can talk with the Rays that any subsequent talks are just that, not negotiations.

Commissioner Victor Crist said the county would be wise to engage representatives of other governments, and possibly the private sector, to take part. And beyond the legal questions, Commissioner Kevin Beckner said he wants to make sure fellow board members don't stir up animosity from Hillsborough's neighbors.

Commissioners generally said they agreed professional baseball is a regional asset that has an economic benefit across Tampa Bay. Any discussions should be framed that way, they said.

"I think everybody realizes the economic impact, and we want the Rays to stay here," Beckner said. "But this does need to be a regional effort and we need to make sure we're not coming in as the 800-pound gorilla trying to disrupt current negotiations."

Hillsborough commissioners seek legal advice about talking to Tampa Bay Rays 04/18/12 [Last modified: Thursday, April 19, 2012 8:05am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash


    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle


    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators


    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.