Dunedin might stop accepting Jays gifts
By LEON M. TUCKER
© St. Petersburg Times,
DUNEDIN -- The long-standing practice of city officials accepting gifts from the Toronto Blue Jays and the city of Toronto could become a thing of the past.
"I'm not putting down the hospitality they have given us," said Vice Mayor Deborah Kynes. "It's just that if there is a bad public perception about something, you need to fix it."
Dunedin officials have taken baseball tickets, meals and hotel stays -- courtesy of the Jays and Toronto -- since the baseball team opened a spring training headquarters here in 1977.
A review by the St. Petersburg Times on Sunday showed city leaders had accepted more than $34,000 in gifts since 1991 (see Toronto's generosity benefits officials).
On Monday, Kynes asked City Attorney John Hubbard to advise the City Commission how it could change its position on gifts. One option, Hubbard wrote in a memo, is cutting out gifts altogether.
Records show the current mayor, city manager, city attorney and city commissioners have reported accepting gifts ranging from $1,886 to $8,506. Among the gifts: $200 meals, hotel stays of more than $450 and theater tickets worth $186 per couple.
Other Dunedin officials joined Kynes Monday in saying a change might be in order.
"Periodically, it's probably a good thing for us to re-evaluate situations," said Mayor Tom Anderson, who reported accepting $6,619 in gifts. "I think the timing is right."
There is nothing illegal about accepting the gifts unless the officials fail to note them on state-required financial disclosure forms.
City Manager John Lawrence reported receiving $3,373 in gifts, including two watches from the Blue Jays valued at $680 each. The watches, gifts from the team after it won World Series championships in 1992 and 1993, were donated by Lawrence to the Dunedin Historical Museum last week.
"We live in an environment where what is legal and how it is perceived are two different things," Lawrence said Monday. "When you decide to work in the public sector, you have to accept that there is a higher standard that needs to be adhered to."
Hubbard's memo to city commissioners addressed adopting "more stringent rules" on gifts. Hubbard, who reported accepting $1,886 in gifts, also said he would study Clearwater's hard-line policy against accepting gifts.
"It is my opinion to the City Commission that it may absolutely preclude gifts in any amount to the elected public officials, charter officials and city employees should it deem that this is in the public interest to do so," Hubbard wrote.
Despite agreeing that some changes should be made, Anderson said the relationship Dunedin has with the city of Toronto is different from the one it has with the baseball team and should be treated as such.
"When you're talking about entertaining the Blue Jays (it) is one thing, but we have sort of a sister-city relationship with Toronto," Anderson said. "We'll have to sort it out a little bit, but I think (change) is a good idea."
Commissioners Cecil Englebert, who reportedly took $4,138 in gifts, and John Doglione, who reported the most at $8,506, declined to comment on the matter.
Janet Henderson, who reported $6,227 in gifts, is in Europe and could not be reached.
Kynes said she expects commissioners to discuss changes at their meeting Sept. 13.
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