On Friday night, Mark Puente reported that St. Petersburg’s $5.2 million budget shortfall includes money spent on a party for the RNC at Tropicana Field. Puente’s story was prominently displayed in Saturday’s edition of the Times.
“The tab comes after Mayor Bill Foster repeatedly declared that taxpayers wouldn’t be on the hook for the Sunday bash at Tropicana Field. The money is on top of $1 million in police costs that Tampa agreed to give the city from a $50 million federal grant it received for convention security,” reported Puente.
Not twenty-four hours after Puente’s story was posted, Foster e-mailed and posted to the city’s website a rebuttal to the Times‘ report.
“I’’d like to clarify an article running in today’s Tampa Bay Times,” Foster writes. “In no way will St. Petersburg residents foot the bill for expenses related to the welcome party and security expenses in and around Tropicana Field.”
“The $580,000 in expenses reported in the Tampa Bay Times was a staff projection made long before the RNC had signed the agreement for the use of Tropicana Field, and weeks before the city inked its agreement with the city of Tampa,” Foster explains.
Foster cited the long-term benefits of hosting RNC events, including training for St. Petersburg Police related to crowd control, emergency management, homeland security and transportation planning, as well as more than $200,000 in safety equipment, technology and security cameras.
We won’t know for a while whether Foster is playing shell games with the city budget, but his response to the Times deserves as much ink as the original story accusing Foster of putting the city “on the hook” for the party’s expenses.