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Officials reconsider seeking stadium rehearing

Tampa and Hillsborough County government officials, seeking to revive an NFL stadium deal ruled unconstitutional by a Hillsborough judge, spent Sunday rethinking their plan to ask for a new hearing.

"I think there's still some final discussion before that action will be taken," Hillsborough County Administrator Dan Kleman said.

Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, Kleman and Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Rich McKay spoke briefly Sunday about Circuit Judge Sam Pendino's ruling and plan to talk again today by phone along with their lawyers, Kleman said.

He would not say what was discussed. McKay and Greco could not be reached for comment.

"Everybody's trying to solve a very complicated situation," Kleman said.

Pendino's ruling Friday objected to a part of the deal that gives the Bucs the first $2-million annually from non-NFL events at the stadium, such as concerts, college football, Tampa Bay Mutiny games and tractor pulls. He also expressed concern that taxpayers would have to pay stadium maintenance costs.

The ruling was a victory for former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, who filed suit last August, saying the $168-million stadium was an unconstitutional use of tax money.

Government attorneys have five days from Friday to appeal to the Florida Supreme Court and 10 days to ask Pendino for a new hearing.

Some county officials think they have the option of going back to Pendino after removing the offending language from the lease and hoping he approves the bond deal. County Commissioner Joe Chillura thinks the county can ignore Pendino's ruling and press ahead with financing the stadium while hoping Poe doesn't choose to sue again.

"The stadium itself can't be stopped," Chillura said. Others, among them Poe's attorney, aren't so sure.

After a meeting Saturday attended by Greco and Kleman, County Attorney Emmy Acton said government officials would ask Pendino to reconsider his decision. The issue they planned to argue was "severability," a doctrine included in language of the stadium deal that says if one part is ruled unconstitutional the rest is unaffected.

Poe's attorney, Chris Bentley, said his client plans to fight an attempt to ask Pendino to reconsider his decision. It would be a violation of a Dec. 23 agreement designed to speed consideration of Poe's lawsuit, he said.

Bentley hasn't spoken to Poe since the decision was made and said he doesn't know what the former mayor would do if the deal is renegotiated. "Until they do whatever they're going to do, we don't know."

Chillura, architect of the referendum last fall in which voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase for construction of the stadium, schools, road improvements and police needs, said the real issue is whether Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer can live without the money from non-NFL events. He said the $2-million a year was something the Bucs had asked for in lease negotiations.

"Can he live with this lease now that the judge has ruled a section of it unconstitutional?" Chillura asked.