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If elected, I'll … (is this on the record?)

There was an interesting chain of events Friday afternoon in the St. Petersburg mayor's race. It was partly my fault, too. Sorry.

Originally there was to be a private forum this Thursday for candidates to talk about baseball, no doubt including the topic of a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.

"This is NOT a public forum or media event," stressed the invitation from the sponsoring group, the "Clutch Hitters," an association of pro-baseball business folks around the Tampa Bay area.

Now, make no mistake: the Clutch Hitters is a private group that can run its meetings any way it sees fit.

But I questioned whether the candidates had considered the implications of a closed meeting to talk baseball and stadiums — the second "private" candidates' forum held recently, the other being at a downtown condo association.

It just seems a little weird that the race for St. Petersburg mayor would be waged in a series of events not open to the public or media.

That goes double for the topic of baseball, considering that last time around, the city signed a secret deal for a waterfront stadium and hid it from the citizens for months. That's one big reason it fell through.

Wait, there's one more little detail about this meeting that was to supposed be closed to the public and media.

The location: the main office of the St. Petersburg Times, with the Times providing a moderator, too. We have a community room that we sometimes let civic groups use.

Oh, lordy! This was no big conspiracy, I swear, just one of those left-hand, right-hand things.

But the irony of the "public's right to know" newspaper hosting a closed meeting was pointed out with a chuckle by candidate Kathleen Ford, who figures we have a conflict of interest anyway when it comes to baseball.

I also talked or traded messages with these candidates or their campaigns: James Bennett, Bill Foster, Deveron Gibbons, Scott Wagman, Alex Haak and Sharon Russ.

The first four stressed that they wouldn't say anything that they wouldn't say in public and would prefer that all campaign events were open.

Bennett quickly followed on up Twitter and Facebook (modern times!) by calling publicly for the Clutch Hitters to open the event.

Foster, for his part, cheerfully invited me to be his "date" to see what happened at the meeting. I'm holding out for a corsage.

And Russ, who was not invited, she said she is highly upset and considers this another example of "selling our city to the highest bidder." Haak was not invited either. (So if they show up, that's my fault too.)

In the end, the Clutch Hitters graciously agreed to open their meeting at the Times to the media at large. It's still a members-only event, but so are lots of things that the public learns about through media coverage, for instance Tiger Bay Club sessions.

Sheesh! Didn't mean to make a federal case out of it.

But I'm glad that they'll be speaking on the record. Here's hoping that the candidates will be sensitive to these "private" discussions as the campaign proceeds, and that groups holding forums will weigh whether to hold them for the benefit of the city at large.

If elected, I'll … (is this on the record?) 05/02/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 3, 2009 1:11am]
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