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Brakes applied to Olympic spending

Tampa Bay's pursuit of the 2012 Olympic Games will be almost exclusively a privately funded venture. So said Tampa Mayor Dick Greco. So said members of the Hillsborough County Commission.

But on Wednesday, as the commission was voting to erect barriers to spending public money on the Olympic bid, it was revealed that more public money already has been spent for that purpose than was widely known.

The Tampa-Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Association recently approved spending $100,000 over the next two years to help with the bid. That money is in addition to the $150,000 in tourist tax money that already has been sent to the U.S. Olympic Committee to cover a non-refundable bid fee.

County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, the government official who has so far been at the heart of Tampa Bay's bid, said he and Greco talked to officials from the visitors association before the bid application fee was paid to see if the association would cover the more extensive costs of mounting a bid.

The answer was no, Turanchik said, but visitors association officials did agree to explore the possibility of spending some of their money on a bid if members of Tampa Bay's business community also are willing to contribute.

Turanchik said he then made calls to local business leaders and secured pledges of hundreds of thousands of dollars in support. At a recent meeting, the board of the visitors association _ which gets 90 percent of its funding through the hotel tax appropriated by the County Commission _ voted to spend $100,000 on the Olympic bid over the next two years.

Some of that money was spent to charter a bus so local government and business leaders could lobby at a meeting of the U.S. Olympic Committee this week in Orlando.

Commissioner Jan Platt, who was out of town when her colleagues voted last month to support making the Olympic bid, was critical of discussions that led to the visitors association's vote to spend the additional $100,000.

She offered a motion that, among other things, would have required county commissioners who want to lobby an organization that gets county money to go before that organization's full board, rather than speak with individual officials. Such a move, she said, would eliminate the possibility of a commissioner putting undue or improper political pressure on officials of organizations that depend on the county for funding.

None of Platt's colleagues offered a second to that part of her motion, and it died, but not before Turanchik offered his own heated objections to it, saying Platt simply opposes the idea of pursuing an Olympic bid.

"I know you would like to unring that bell," Turanchik said, "but it's already done."

Platt acknowledged she isn't wild about the bid.

"I don't think there's been due diligence on this," she said. "I think if this is going to work, the private sector has to do this. This cannot become a priority of the county at this point."

To make sure it doesn't, the commission voted 6-0 (Commissioner Chris Hart was absent) to require that for any further county money to be spent on the Olympic bid, five of the seven commissioners must approve it, rather than a simple majority. Otherwise, no more county money can be used.