State law needs to stretch to fit NFL limos

A change before '09 would allow out-of-state drivers to serve Super Bowl customers.

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published December 2, 2007

TAMPA - The city's next trip into the Super Bowl spotlight could be dimmed by NFL high rollers angry because they can't use their limos.

State law may be changed to make sure they can.

The problem? Under current law, only people with a chauffeur's license issued in Florida can climb behind the wheels of limousines and cabs in Hillsborough County.

But the NFL contracts with a Washington, D.C., company - Carey International - to cart around its VIPs.

Carey has drivers licensed in Florida, but it may want to bring in out-of-state drivers when Tampa hosts the Super Bowl in 2009.

The move to change the law came in response to months of complaints by Walter Kozak, a Hernando County driver who provides chartered transportation as part of his travel business.

Early this year, Kozak sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell complaining about Tampa's Super Bowl bid and threatening a lawsuit because it relies on cabs and limos from throughout the region to drive the thousands of visitors who visit Tampa during the Super Bowl.

Kozak has been arrested more than once for illegally operating a public vehicle in Hillsborough County. He questioned the legality of the county's Public Transportation Commission, which regulates cabs and limos, allowing out-of-county drivers to pick up passengers in Hillsborough during the Super Bowl, something that's illegal the rest of the year.

But his letter drew attention to the driver's license provision.

Tony Vitrano, president of Game Day Management, an Orlando company that coordinates some transportation for the Super Bowl, wrote in an e-mail that "it would be mostly Carey's vehicles that would be impacted" by the law.

Greg Cox, then the executive director of the Public Transportation Commission, told NFL officials in March to ignore Kozak.

Cox described him and supporters in an e-mail as a group of three "malcontents who have at one point run astray of the law" and are now "obsessed with reading the statutes, misquoting the statutes and trying ...to give the impression that they are something more than they are."

Later that day, however, he contacted Senior Assistant Hillsborough County Attorney Orlando Perez and suggested changing the state law that outlines rules for the Public Transportation Commission, records show.

Cox, who resigned his post in September, could not be reached for comment.

Carey International declined to comment for this story.

State Rep. Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, agreed to sponsor the proposed bill to allow drivers from other states.

"The way I saw it was the PTC was trying to accommodate the NFL," Glorioso said. "They're just trying to make them legal."

Perez said in an interview this week the change isn't really necessary for Carey to fulfill its NFL duties. It simply offers more flexibility.

But Perez characterized it differently when briefing the Public Transportation Commission Oct. 10. He said the law change would allow out-of-state drivers to provide "services here without being in violation of the existing law," according to meeting transcripts.

At the same meeting, a PTC official said that during the 2001 Super Bowl in Tampa, drivers came from as far away as New York and Arizona.

If the law passes, the change would also apply to cabdrivers and allow out-of-state drivers to serve Super Bowl customers.

The bill needs the support of eight Hillsborough County representatives and three senators to make it to Tallahassee for a vote.

A public hearing on the legislation as well as other local bills is scheduled for Friday.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.