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    Toronto's generosity benefits officials

    Dunedin has no qualms about taking gifts from the city and the Blue Jays, and it's legal. Other cities, however, say no.

    By LEON M. TUCKER

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published August 19, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- During the past decade, government leaders here have accepted more than $34,000 in baseball tickets, hotel stays, dinners and high-priced watches from the Toronto Blue Jays and the Canadian government.

    The practice is not illegal. But officials from Tampa and Clearwater say they do not accept gifts from the Major League Baseball teams they host, because the gestures could potentially influence their decisions about the team.

    "I'm real careful about that kind of thing, and the commissioners are, too, because of how our residents will react," Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst said. "We just try to be somewhat careful."

    Dunedin's leaders don't see a problem.

    "It's not like we were hiding anything," said Vice Mayor Deborah Kynes, who accepted a $200 dinner from the Blue Jays officials in February. "We were totally within the law."

    Kynes is right, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

    "There is nothing in the code of ethics that prohibits taking a gift of any value, as long as it's nothing from a lobbying agency," said Helen Jones, spokeswoman for the Florida Commission on Ethics.

    State law requires city officials and employees, with the exception of support staff, to submit financial forms disclosing the value of gifts they accept.

    "There was never a question in my mind that it was harming anything," said Dunedin Commissioner Cecil Englebert, who racked up a $453 hotel bill while visiting Toronto last year. "I never even gave it any thought."

    Dunedin leaders have accepted gifts since the team came to town in 1977. The Times reviewed 10 years' worth of records. They showed, for example, that in April Englebert flew to Toronto with Mayor Tom Anderson and Commissioner Janet Henderson for a "goodwill" trip. They met Toronto officials, comparing experiences in hosting a Major League Baseball team.

    Dunedin taxpayers paid $938 to pick up air fare and shuttle rides for the trip. The city did not, however, pay for Anderson and Henderson's spouses to tag along. Former commissioner Don Jones, who joined the group, also paid his way.

    At a single sitting, Englebert, Anderson and Henderson ate dinners they said cost more than $100 each. Anderson and Henderson also reported seeing the play Mamma Mia! on the city of Toronto's dime. Tickets cost $186 per couple, according to documents they filed.

    The city of Toronto paid for everyone's stay at the downtown Toronto Colony Hotel at a rate of $78 per night. Anderson, Henderson and their guests stayed five days and four nights. Englebert and Jones' trip lasted six days and five nights.

    "I guess some people could be concerned about whether (gifts) influence our decisions," Anderson said. "But the way things have been going (with current negotiations) it has obviously not influenced my decisions."

    The city and the Blue Jays are at odds over details concerning who pays what to renovate the team's spring training complex. The project will cost at least $12-million, and the city is seeking $1.5-million in additional state and county money.

    Many of the gifts Dunedin leaders took were tickets to Blue Jays spring training games.

    "I don't think any commissioner would be swayed by two tickets," said City Manager John Lawrence. "It never struck me as odd because we have had a business relationship with the Blue Jays for 25 years and it is a reciprocal type of thing."

    Lawrence accepted more than $3,300 in gifts since 1991, including two watches from the Blue Jays valued at $680 each. The watches were a gift from the team after it won World Series championships in 1992 and 1993. Instead of championship rings, the team also gave watches to Dunedin minor league team members and staff members.

    "It was given to me as a "thank you' for hosting them down here," Lawrence said.

    Two days after answering questions about the watches from a reporter, Lawrence donated them last week to the Dunedin Historical Museum.

    In Tampa, the Buccaneers, Mutiny, Storm and Lightning teams regularly do business with city officials. The New York Yankees also hold spring training there.

    "The only thing that goes on here in the city of Tampa is the Tampa Sports Authority has a private box in Raymond James Stadium and members of the authority and guests attend that," said Henry Ennis, finance director for the city of Tampa. "But there are no trips or anything like that."

    But Dunedin has given as much in gifts as it has received.

    Since 1991 Dunedin city officials have spent more than $15,000 taking Toronto city officials to dinner and putting them up in hotels when they have visited.

    "When we go up there we are guests of the city (of Toronto) and not the Blue Jays -- and when they come down here they are our guests in our stadium," said Commissioner John Doglione. "There is nothing sinister about that."

    The money spent on Toronto and Blue Jays officials includes a March bill from the downtown Dunedin Italian restaurant Pastels. Taxpayers paid $1,149.96 to entertain the 25 people who attended. And that doesn't include the tip.

    "Is is nothing new and it is nothing that has changed during the ups and dows of our relationship," said City Attorney John Hubbard, who has reported more than $1,800 in gifts since 1997. "It is not affecting any of my decisions, and if there has been any effect to the commissioners I would be very surprised because (the gifts) are of minimal value."

    Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman and city councillors regularly visit Dunedin and attend spring training games while in town. Besides dinner, Dunedin taxpayers regularly pick up their lodging.

    One hotel bill in February 1998 was $1,278.75, which covered lodging for six people, including the mayor, his wife and his two grandchildren.

    "It's just keeping a good business relationship," said Commissioner Henderson. "They are very kind to us when we go there, and we want to be kind to them when they come here."

    Clearwater rules concisely prohibit its leaders from taking the type of gifts Dunedin officials routinely accept.

    "No city officer or employee shall accept or solicit anything of value, including a gift," the ordinance reads.

    Despite Clearwater's 54-year relationship with the Phillies, Mayor Aungst says that when city leaders visit Philadelphia they pay their own way.

    "We're a pretty conservative group when it comes to that kind of stuff," Aungst said.

    The Blue Jays, which have trained in Dunedin for 25 years, say they are comfortable with their arrangement with the city.

    "I don't consider them gifts," said Ken Carson, director of Florida operation for the Jays. "We've always given them tickets to games, which is a courtesy. It's just something the Blue Jays decided to do."

    Gifts accepted since 1991 Mayor Tom Anderson

    Spring training season tickets

    Spring training private box tickets

    Meals

    Lodging

    Theater tickets

    Total: $6,619

    City Manager John Lawrence

    Spring training tickets

    Meals

    Watches

    Total: $3,373

    Commissioner Janet Henderson

    Spring training season tickets

    Spring training private box tickets

    Minor league tickets

    Meals

    Lodging

    Theater tickets

    Total: $6,227

    Commissioner Cecil Englebert

    Spring training season tickets

    Spring training private box tickets

    Minor league season tickets

    Meals

    Lodging

    Total: $4,138

    Commissioner John Doglione

    Spring training season tickets

    Spring training private box tickets

    Minor league season tickets

    Meals

    Lodging

    Total: $8,506

    Commissioner Deborah Kynes

    Spring training season tickets

    Spring training private box tickets

    Minor league season tickets

    Meals

    Lodging

    Total: $3,240

    City Attorney John Hubbard

    Spring training tickets

    Minor league Season tickets

    Meals

    Total: $1,886

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