Sunshine Law may dim GOP convention visits

Published August 16, 2006

TAMPA - Convention officials have been working for months to prepare for a visit from the 2008 Republican National Convention site selection committee.

Now, just days before the visit set for Sunday through Tuesday, they're scrambling to reconcile the desire to demonstrate support from elected officials with requirements of Florida's open meeting laws.

"We are still discussing how to manage that," said Karen Brand, vice president of communications for the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Plans called for taking the site selection committee, elected officials and community leaders on tours of the Tampa Bay area, including the St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa Convention Center, Marriott Waterside Hotel, Tropicana Field and the Don CeSar Beach Resort and Hotel.

Several state legislators, Tampa City Council members and county commissioners were invited to some events, Brand said.

The agenda of a business meeting Monday includes discussion of hotel accommodations, transportation, convention venues, public safety and finance, and elected officials are scheduled to attend.

At the request of the Republican National Committee, the tour and meeting are closed to the public, with the media limited to photo opportunities and a press conference Tuesday.

"We would need to let the RNC know if we are changing plans related to this," Brand said.

Florida's law requires any meeting of elected city or county officials who serve on the same board be advertised and open to the public. That's the case even if no vote is taken but public business might be discussed.

"The question is, what is the definition of discussing business. We are evaluating that," Brand said.

Hosting the Republican National Convention would require millions of dollars from the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County.

City Attorney David Smith said he has advised City Council members of the law, but it's up to them to decide whether to go.

Republican Hillsborough Commissioner Brian Blair said he backs the push to lure the convention, and was invited to attend events during the visit, but will not go because "it's not worth the controversy."

Mayor Pam Iorio, a Democrat, said she would represent the city at several of the meetings. She said they should be open to the public.

"I don't think there's any question about it," she said.

Tampa is competing against New York, Cleveland and Minneapolis to host the event in September. A decision is expected in January.