Largo City Officials Refuse to Answer Gambling Bus Queries
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - At last week's City Commission meeting one member raised a question that he said a constituent had presented to him - Was it true that the city supplied shuttle bus transportation to gambling casinos in Tampa?
A ripple of startled surprise went through the mayor and seven commissioners. A questioning look was directed at the city manager. He blustered that he knew nothing about any such program.
A member of the city's Parks, Recreation and Arts Department came forth and seemed very pleased to confirm that yes, indeed, the city supplied transportation to Tampa for people interested in gambling and it was a very popular program.
The employee's preening pride notwithstanding, when Commissioner Curtis Holmes got the answer to his constituent's question, that revelation has raised even more questions.
The questions were submitted to Largo officials February 17, more than a week ago, but as of Wednesday morning they refused to give any answers.
In fact, Norton Craig, the city manager, said two weeks ago to this reporter, "The city has no obligation to answer questions. If you have questions about subjects that require release of public information under the sunshine law I will have staff respond to those requests. We will no longer answer requests that do not meet the above requirement."
It is hard to pinpoint what matters of city government do not come under the Sunshine Law and are not public information.
Under a fiat directed to at least this reporter, Craig requires that all queries of any nature be directed to Shirley Frick, secretary to the mayor and commission members.
Because the revelation of bus shuttle service to gambling in Tampa is of no doubt interest to citizens, city officials, via Frick, were asked --
What is the bus schedule?
Does it run every day?
Is there just one trip?
What is the departure time(s)?
What is the return time(s)?
What is the round trip cost?
The Parks and Recreation representative who confirmed the bus service at last week's meeting said the program did not cost the city anything, a concept hard to believe.
Thus, other questions addressed to city officials, and also refused any answer, were -
When and how were the transporting bus(es) purchased?
What was the cost?
What is the payroll cost of the driver(s)?
Is there liability insurance coverage?
How long has this service been in operation?
Why did the city manager not know anything about this service?
Not asked was how and why access to gambling in another city and county come under Parks, Recreation and Arts? Is general entertainment part of the department's package?
When news of this endeavor by the city broke last week, a flood of other questions from citizens came pouring forth, things like will there be buses to Legends/Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for spring training games? How about transportation to Rays games in St. Petersburg? Should the city be in the public transportation business, thus depriving private businesses? Doesn't the idea of promoting gambling conflict with some people's religions and ethics?
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