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A Times Editorial

Seeking Olympic support

Winning public backing for the Tampa Bay area's 2012 Olympics bid will require more give and take with the public than we've seen so far.

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 11, 2000

Florida 2012 made two things clear when it launched a bid for the Olympic games. First, no public money; private funds would cover the costs, and the community would inherit new facilities once the games were over. Second, the process of preparing the bid would be public and subject to local input.

But almost three years later, with the Tampa-area effort gathering steam, the Olympic bid committee has all but abandoned those important commitments. Florida 2012 president Ed Turanchik is now suggesting that cities, counties and other public agencies make a "contribution" to Olympic housing, sports venues and other projects because the facilities would remain after the Olympics. Florida 2012 also persuaded the Legislature to agree to insure the U.S. Olympic Committee for losses of up to $175-million -- money beyond whatever the state and local governments pay for improvements.

The potential liability to taxpayers warrants an open and rigorous public debate. But the details of the bid won't be released until after the U.S. Olympic Committee reviews the document, even though the bid commits this community to deliver -- on broad terms, at least -- the housing, sports venues, communications facilities, security, transit and other needs for the summer games.

Turanchik talks with sensitivity about the need to act with the openness required of any group that includes so many public officials. Yet Florida 2012 refuses to acknowledge its quasi-public status, and Turanchik won't commit to operate under the reasonable conditions of Florida's open-government laws.

The divide between what Florida 2012 says and does was shown by the mistake University of South Florida athletic director Paul Griffin made in signing a gag order for the 2012 bid. That embarrassment should prompt the new USF president, Judy Genshaft, to set her employees straight on their obligations under Florida's Sunshine Laws.

With the 2012 games so far away, it is understandable that Turanchik would focus on grand themes rather than slog through a public debate on financing, accountability, transit and planning. "There's ample time for this public process," he said.

But a truly public process requires give and take, not merely the privilege to respond to an Olympics hatched in the dark. After the bid is submitted, who will have the standing to challenge assumptions Florida 2012 made after four years of work?

Turanchik had a solid record on openness as a Hillsborough County commissioner, and his unwillingness to follow that example now is rooted in the competition among U.S. bid cities and the ambivalence toward public input by members of his board. Thanks to the work Turanchik and his group have done, the Tampa Bay effort already is taken much more seriously by those involved in that competition. But with many local residents still smarting over Hillsborough's stadium deal with Tampa Bay Bucs' owner Malcolm Glazer, Florida 2012 jeopardizes support by not reaching to the community early and often.

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