Dec. 20--TAMPA -- Who should pay for homeland security when it comes to policing fans during the nation's biggest Sunday afternoon sporting ritual?
The Tampa Sports Authority wants a judge to decide.
Sports authority board members voted 9-1 on Monday to sue the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the cost of added policing at Raymond James Stadium since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"If we don't (sue), we're going to be discussing this five years from now," said board member Johnny Dean Page.
The sports authority estimates that over the past five football seasons it has spent $430,000 beyond what it had historically paid for stadium security. It says the Buccaneers have unfairly picked up only a small fraction of the tab.
Three years of negotiations -- muddied by vagueness in past agreements between the team and the sports authority -- have failed to resolve the matter.
The issue drew to a head this season when the National Football League ordered patdowns of fans entering stadiums where its teams play. Both the league and the Buccaneers refused to pay for the patdowns, which cost roughly $7,500 for each game.
A Hillsborough County circuit judge has since halted the patdowns while season ticketholder Gordon Johnston pursues his legal claim that they violate his constitutional rights.
But some sports authority members say the issue only underscores the need to get a ruling on the longstanding issue of who pays for added security.
The cost of additional security has fallen to taxpayers because the authority operates at a deficit.
Buccaneers officials said they will discuss the sports authority vote, which leaves open further negotiations while the lawsuit is being prepared.
"My understanding is we're going to continue to seek a resolution and discuss everything related to security measures," said team spokesman Jeff Kamis.
At the request of the Bucs, the sports authority agreed after 9/11 to beef up the number of security workers at games. The Bucs picked up the bill for the first season and the first two preseason games of the next year, which came to about $68,000.
Then the payments stopped. Team officials cited language in a contract with the sports authority that says the agency is responsible for providing security at Bucs games.
But sports authority general counsel John Van Voris says security provisions in the contract were based on standard practice in 1996, the year the agreement was signed. Who pays for any additional security is open to debate, he said.
"There are ambiguities to the '96 agreement," Van Voris said.
The Bucs also have demanded that the sports authority increase the amount of damage insurance it carries on Raymond James Stadium.
In recent months, attorneys for Bucs and the sports authority have traded proposals on how to settle the security dispute.
A sports authority committee recently had asked the Bucs to pay for the patdowns, as well as half the cost of added security since Sept. 11.
Attorneys for the Buccaneers countered Monday. They offered to pay $12,500 per game for security measures, but only during games when patdowns take place.
That would mean the team would pay nothing extra while the patdowns are on hold.
Some sports authority members said Monday they thought the Bucs' offer was a move in the right direction.
As part of their vote, they agreed not to file suit until at least Jan. 18 -- after the authority's next meeting -- giving attorneys time to craft the lawsuit while continuing to negotiate with the Bucs.
That will also enable Hillsborough County Commissioner Jim Norman, who sits on the authority, to participate in the discussion.
Norman has urged the authority to move cautiously in considering a lawsuit against the team, fearing it could harm Tampa's chances of hosting future Super Bowls. But he was absent Monday.
"We're pretty much on the right track," said sports authority board member Mark Proctor, the lone vote against filing suit.
(St. Petersburg Times (FL) (KRT) -- 12/21/05)