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Tampa Sports Authority chief pressured to quit or be fired

TAMPA — Fresh from holding a Super Bowl to rave reviews, a bloc of Tampa Sports Authority members is seeking to sack the guy who oversees the stadium where the game was played.

Sports Authority Chairman Vin Marchetti served notice Thursday that he will seek to fire executive director Henry Saavedra next week.

Marchetti said he has no problems with how Saavedra has run events at Raymond James Stadium, including the Super Bowl and Tampa Bay Buccaneers home games.

But he said Saavedra has too often kept the board in the dark about important matters that ultimately affect taxpayers. Other times he has made poor decisions without consulting board members first, Marchetti said.

"It's not personal," Marchetti told Saavedra Thursday during a meeting of the board's executive committee. "I like you as a person. It's just, where do we go from here."

Marchetti outlined some of his concerns in a memo that he presented to the executive committee. Among them, he said, Saavedra failed to alert board members to a workplace lawsuit that cost nearly $120,000 to defend, and didn't tell the Sport Authority about threats to an investment fund in a timely fashion.

He said Saavedra has not been aggressive enough in trimming costs and may have violated the state Sunshine Law by asking a television reporter to submit a public records request in writing rather than accepting an oral request. Marchetti told Saavedra he would withdraw the termination request and support granting him the six months' severance guaranteed in his contract if he resigns by noon Monday.

Andy Scaglione, another executive committee member, supported placing the proposal on Monday's agenda.

"I've been very disappointed in his performance in the past year and a half," he said. The third member of the executive committee, Hillsborough Commissioner Jim Norman, was absent.

Saavedra said after the meeting that it's not uncommon for executive directors and their boards to disagree over how things should run. He said he believes Marchetti's criticisms were sincere; nevertheless, he said he doesn't believe he's done anything out of line. "We're not doing anything differently than we have done here in the last 30 years," said Saavedra.

Saavedra, 56, has worked for the agency that oversees the stadium and three city of Tampa golf courses for 24 years, including 12 as its executive director. He makes $209,622.40 annually.

The Sports Authority is made up of five appointees apiece from Hillsborough County and the city of Tampa, plus an appointee by the governor. For months the county appointees have grown increasingly critical of Saavedra. They also led the charge to replace former general counsel John Van Voris.

Some of the city appointees saw Thursday's machinations as politically motivated. They say the county has been seeking to assert control over the Sports Authority and other governmental agencies by expanding the number of its appointees to the boards that oversee them.

"This is the equivalent of a back-alley mugging," said former Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn. "This is just a continuation of the same petty parochial things that have plagued the Sports Authority and other government agencies for years."

Buckhorn said Marchetti is overstepping his authority as board chairman by offering an ultimatum. Another city appointee, developer Frank DeBose, said there should be a process of airing grievances against Saavedra and giving him the chance to address them.

"I think Henry has done a good job overall," DeBose said.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Tampa Sports Authority chief pressured to quit or be fired 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 11:50pm]
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