ST. PETERSBURG — City Council member Karl Nurse said Friday that he will ask the Florida Commission on Ethics to weigh in on whether Rick Baker, if elected mayor, should negotiate city business with his current boss, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards.
Baker has said he doesn’t see any reason to recuse himself from negotiating a long-term lease with the Rowdies to upgrade their home pitch at Al Lang Stadium if Major League Soccer grants the team an expansion franchise. MLS is expected to make a decision on four new teams by next year. Baker led the Rowdies’ successful May referendum that granted the team the right to redevelop Al Lang.
Baker, who served as mayor between 2001 and 2010, also said he would negotiate any amendment to the Mahaffey Theater contract. Edwards’ company manages the city-owned theater.
Nurse said he would ask the state commission for an opinion if Baker wins Tuesday’s primary or the Nov. 7 general election. Nurse is term-limited and leaves the council in January.
“Common sense says you just can’t do that,” Nurse said of Baker’s refusal to recuse himself from future city dealings with his current employer.
Baker is locked in an increasingly noisy race with incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Nothing in the city’s administrative code for ethics appears to prohibit Baker from negotiating with Edwards. Last week, the Tampa Bay Times asked if anything in the city charter or ethics code bars Baker from negotiating with Edwards. City Attorney Jackie Kovilaritch declined to comment.
Kriseman’s communications director, Ben Kirby, posted on his personal Facebook page last week that Baker had “abdicated his ability to serve as an impartial public servant, a fair negotiator and an honest broker” by refusing to recuse himself.
Kirby also referred in his post late on Aug. 18 as Baker “continuing to serve as President of the Edwards Group.”
However, Baker has said that he’ll resign his position with Edwards if elected. Baker did the same in 2001 when he resigned from the law firm of Fisher and Sauls when first elected mayor.
The city’s ethics code has several sections which appear to prohibit a mayor from holding a job that could conflict with city business.
Kirby said it was his personal opinion that Baker would break that promise and continue working for Edwards by changing the ethics code, which could be done without City Council approval.
Nurse, who supports Kriseman for reelection, said that scenario seemed farfetched.
“I can’t imagine he would do that,” Nurse said.
Nurse planned to hold a 1 p.m. news conference on the steps of City Hall to brief the media about his plan.
The Baker campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.