Hillsborough commissioners would not be facing a multimillion-dollar crisis over the new Tampa stadium if the effort to retain the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had been honest from the start. The county has scheduled a hearing today to appeal last week's ruling by Circuit Judge Sam Pendino striking down the $319-million stadium deal. Commissioners should put aside wishful thinking and wounded pride and seek a compromise that passes constitutional muster and works to the long-term benefit of the community and the Bucs.
The narrow ruling by Pendino does not necessarily destroy Tampa's 30-year lease with the Bucs. Indeed, Pendino found that "the new stadium project would serve a paramount public purpose," if the team was not guaranteed the first $2-million a year in revenue from non-Bucs events. That certainly leaves plenty of room for the county to negotiate.
The Bucs on Tuesday signaled their willingness to restructure that element of the agreement in return for an assurance that stadium construction will continue. A 50-50 split, for example, could raise up to $30-million for the county to offset the stadium's operational costs, while creating a liability for Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer far short of the $74-million penalty he would face to move the team.
The time for constructive compromise is short. Unfortunately, some county officials _ most glaringly, Commissioner Ed Turanchik _ seem to be stuck in denial. Former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, who has been subjected to vicious personal attacks for challenging the stadium project, certainly acted within his rights and may ultimately save taxpayers millions of dollars. Poe and Pendino deserve the respect of Hillsborough residents, not the self-serving scorn being directed at them by sore losers.
"There was a vote last fall, and no judge can invalidate it," Turanchik said, adding that "the views of an eccentric old man" (presumably Poe) should not stand in the way of the new stadium.
Turanchik, too, will be old one day, if he is lucky. Whether he will ever attain wisdom becomes more questionable by the day. Surely Turanchik, a lawyer, must realize that constitutional protections are not subject to popular vote. Pendino's ruling was an unusual one that might not withstand appeal. However, Turanchik challenged the court's authority, not merely its judgment.
Fortunately, Tampa Mayor Dick Greco, County Administrator Dan Kleman, County Attorney Emmy Acton and other officials are acting more constructively. They have been seeking solutions while others seek scapegoats.
The county probably would not be in the position of having to renegotiate the lease, or reargue its case, had the stadium stood alone last year in an honest referendum. In his ruling, Pendino pointed out that neither the stadium nor the Bucs lease was submitted to a direct public vote. Turanchik and fellow Commissioner Joe Chillura, who concocted the three-headed tax to which the stadium was attached, should drop the pretense that voters somehow spoke clearly about the stadium deal.
Renegotiating with Glazer is certainly humiliating; the clock is ticking and the county holds no leverage. Whether a compromise with the Glazers will satisfy Poe, or preempt an extended legal challenge before the Florida Supreme Court, is a separate matter. The county, however, must salvage its stadium deal one step at a time. Reaching common ground with Glazer could make the lease less vulnerable to legal challenges, now and in the future, and protect the public's investment. That certainly was Pendino's message _ and the point Poe sought to make with his suit.