Daniel Ruth

It's kiss up or get out at the TSA

Some years ago when Tampa Sports Authority executive director Rick Nafe opted to quit his seemingly cushy job to go to work for Vince Naimoli, who was running the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays, I was more than dumbfounded — admittedly a not uncommon state of mind for me.

How could Nafe do this? How could he enter into the employ of an egomaniacal, bombastic, overly demanding, raving, mercurial bully? The ever even-keeled Nafe simply smiled a knowing smile.

It took a while before I finally figured out what Nafe's inscrutable Mona Lisa grin likely meant. Better one than 11. Smart guy, Rick Nafe.

As it turned out — and rightfully so — working for Yosemite Sam meets Sean Penn was infinitely preferable to going into the office every day to report to an at times 11-member self-absorbed, conniving, duplicitous, preening board of directors.

Right about now the wisdom of Nafe's move is hardly lost on his successor, Henry Saavedra, who resigned his TSA job on Monday rather than have to confront a star chamber of hubris that made the Inquisition look like a pillar of due process.

Saavedra gave 24 years of his adult life to serving the TSA, the last 12 as executive director. But none of that service meant a thing to a cabal of six board members who went after his head with a list of dubious charges the would be the envy of Dick Cheney making paper airplanes out of the Constitution.

For example, Saavedra was accused of not alerting the board in a timely fashion of the collapse of the financial firm Lehman Brothers, which handled investments for the agency, even though the investments had been handled, not by Saavedra, but by Hillsborough County money managers. As well, didn't any of the TSA board members bother to follow news accounts of Lehman's woes? It's not as if this was a big secret.

But perhaps the most bizarre allegation against Saavedra was that he violated Florida's public records laws — by giving two reporters, Channel 10's Mike Deeson and the St. Petersburg Times' Janet Zink, public records they requested concerning the use by board members of the TSA's skybox for the Super Bowl.

Uh, wouldn't this be a bit like canning a priest for saying Mass?

This might come as something of a shock to the six board members who voted to accept Saavedra's under duress resignation — chairman Vin Marchetti, Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, Andrew Scaglione, Tony Muniz, Mark Proctor and Tampa City Councilman Tom Scott — but TSA documents are a (ahem) public record one need only ask to see to have access to them.

These aren't the nuclear codes, folks.

Five members, Tampa City Councilwoman Mary Alvarez, former councilman Bob Buckhorn, Frank DuBose, Kalyn Brandewie and Johnny D. Page, who has served on the TSA board since Red Grange wore a leather helmet, all voted against Saavedra's resignation.

And for good reason.

Saavedra wasn't being pushed out for incompetence, or malfeasance, or corruption. He was losing his livelihood because of a perception he hadn't been obsequious enough to the pampered sensibilities of a half-dozen board members whose keisters hadn't been suitably bussed.

Indeed, if anyone should be concerned about possible Sunshine Law violations, it is the six bobblehead dolls who engaged in this Oxbow Incident of Helloooooo Sucker Stadium.

It was Brandewie who accused the Sextet of Superciliousness of playing fast and loose with public accountability, suggesting the board members may have colluded behind the scenes to oust Saavedra.

After all, Saavedra only received a letter from Marchetti whining about his job performance just two days before the board's scheduled Monday meeting.

Well, you never know. Perhaps Marchetti went to a fortune teller to learn the intentions of the other anti-Saavedra board members. Maybe he gazed into Greek coffee grinds, or interpreted some chicken bones, or channeled Nostradamus to divine where his fellow board members stood on Saavedra's future.

Still , at the risk of cynicism, it is hard to fathom that Marchetti would have gone after Saavedra if he didn't feel awfully comfortable he had to the votes to oust the TSA head. But that's a cynic for you.

For Henry Saavedra, there is an upside to his turn in the TSA kangaroo court barrel.

At least he no longer has to deal with Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer and his imps — What and Me Worry?

More importantly, a good man walks away from the TSA with his head high and reputation intact, which is more than you can say for those who stabbed him the back.

It's kiss up or get out at the TSA 03/19/09 [Last modified: Friday, March 20, 2009 7:17pm]

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