Cloak and dagger games at City Hall

Published Sept. 25, 2012

Perhaps St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has seen one too many James Bond movies. There can't be a better reason why he hides behind a veil of For Your Eyes Only intrigue in treating the city's expenses for the Republican National Convention party as a national security secret. Fortunately, Tampa city officials have a greater appreciation for public records and accountability and released an accounting showing St. Petersburg's reimbursed expenses at $949,647.

Foster was aided and abetted in his cloak-and-dagger avoidance of a public disclosure of the RNC party costs by police Chief Chuck Harmon, who also cited national security concerns. Tampa city officials readily provided the numbers, which include: $281,000 for the police, $161,000 for firefighters, $79,000 for various city workers, $14,516 to secure fire hydrants and $53,000 for police support personnel. Foster's refusal to provide the figures wasn't justifiable hush-hush. It was typical mayoral mush-mush.

After claiming the RNC party would not cost city taxpayers a dime, Foster now acknowledges there will be some cost to the city even with the check for $950,000 in federal dollars. He just can't say how much. And the city initially released a figure that Foster's top aide acknowledges was made up. But she said that made-up amount could be partially covered by the federal money. Or it might not. Whatever.

No wonder there is a penchant for secrecy in St. Petersburg City Hall. It's painful to be transparent when the mayor can't explain how much public money was spent on a partisan political event, or exactly how he ran up a $5 million deficit this year, or how he will make ends meet next year after his fire fee went up in flames. But if St. Petersburg City Council members want some answers, they know where to go: Tampa City Hall. And don't forget to ask for a copy of Foster's secret plan to build a new baseball stadium.