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Hush put on talk of Olympic stadium

A confidentiality agreement deals with a stadium that could be paid for, in part, with taxpayer money.

By WAYNE WASHINGTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 6, 2000


TAMPA -- A top University of South Florida official said Monday that he does not have a copy of a confidentiality agreement he said he had signed with a private group trying to bring the Olympics to Tampa.

USF Athletic Director Paul Griffin said last week the agreement prohibits him from discussing plans to build an Olympic stadium that would later be used by USF's football team.

Such a stadium would cost hundreds of millions and could be paid for, in part, with taxpayer money.

On Monday, Griffin said he doesn't have a copy of the confidentiality agreement. Griffin said he signed it in Florida 2012's offices a couple of months ago without having it examined by an attorney for the university. He said he didn't ask for a copy.

USF attorneys who work with the athletic department said they don't have a copy of the agreement either.

"It wasn't something I initiated," Griffin said. "It doesn't have particular importance to me."

Asked to provide a copy of the confidentiality agreement under Florida's open records law, Griffin directed a St. Petersburg Times reporter to Florida 2012.

"You'll have to call them and ask for it," he said.

Ed Turanchik, president and CEO of Florida 2012, said he would "have to think about" the newspaper's request.

"And that is not a denial of the record," he said. "If you read it that way, that will be false. I need to look at what he signed."

But Turanchik, a lawyer and former Hillsborough County commissioner, did not commit to providing the document today.

"Just because you're a public official and you sign something, that doesn't automatically make it public. It depends on what capacity you sign it in."

Where Griffin signed the agreement or who has it now shouldn't bear on its status as a public document, said Barbara Petersen, executive director of the First Amendment Foundation.

"Any record made or received by USF pursuant to its business is a public record," Petersen said. "The question is, "Is this a public record?' I would say it is."

Florida law requires private organizations in possession of public records to disclose them if requested.

That law was reaffirmed in a case 10 years ago involving St. Petersburg. City officials signed a confidentiality agreement with the Chicago White Sox to keep negotiations to have the team use the Florida Suncoast Dome secret. An attorney for the team kept the records.

The city refused the St. Petersburg Times' requests for the records on the grounds that they were never in the city's possession and thus were not public documents.

The newspaper sued, won and the records were produced.

Griffin said signing the confidentiality agreement at Florida 2012's offices and not getting a copy was in no way meant to evade public records requirements.

Griffin said it is not unusual for him to sign agreements where he gets no legal guidance and does not keep a copy for himself or the university.

"It depends on the documents," he said.

Turanchik has said his organization will attempt to keep some aspects of its bid for the 2012 Games secret to help Tampa compete against the seven other bidders.

Bids must be submitted to the United States Olympic Committee by Dec. 15. The USOC will choose the American candidate city in 2002, and the International Olympic Committee will make the final choice three years later.

Florida 2012's efforts have gathered strong support from politicians throughout the state. Gov. Jeb Bush signed a bill last week that would have state taxpayers cover up to $175-million in losses if the Games were held in Tampa and lost money. That bill calls for Florida 2012 to cover the first $25-million in losses, with taxpayers taking over from there.

An Olympic stadium, however, remains one of the most important unanswered questions about Tampa's bid. Where will it be built? How much, exactly, will it cost? And how much will taxpayers be asked to contribute?

Turanchik has said in the past that those questions will be answered in Florida 2012's bid.

Griffin said the university has "had discussions with the 2012 people," but refused to go into details, citing the confidentiality agreement he signed.

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