Tampa Bay Host Committee president says he's in the business of playing nice and raising money, not security

04/11/12 Janelle Irwin
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Ken Jones, president of the Tampa Bay Host Committee is expecting this summer’s Republican National Convention to be a huge economic driver for the region. At a Suncoast Tiger Bay meeting at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club this afternoon, Jones deflected some criticism of the convention, like the rights of protesters, because those issues aren’t under his umbrella.

Over the past several months, Ken Jones has led the Tampa Bay Host Committee to create such economic drivers as a small business registry and a massive volunteer drive that will boost Tampa Bay’s image to visitors. Jones said those efforts combined with the surge of people into the region will make Tampa and surrounding areas a lot of money.

“All together we’ll spend about $175 million of actual hard dollars in the community. When you do the multiplier effect and figure out how many times the dollar turns over in an economy, we’re looking at close to $300-500 million of economic impact.”

But the cost of his efforts aren’t cheap. $55 million. And that funding comes from donations from both corporations and individuals. One Tiger Bay member raised the concern that collecting contributions from some of the deepest pockets is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Jones doesn’t think so.

“The pots of money that corporations and individuals allocate to conventions and host committees is not mutually exclusive. Nobody is going to sit down – at lease not that I’ve talked to – Microsoft is not going to sit down and say ‘well, I was going to give the Kid’s Cancer Foundation a million dollars, but now I’m going to take that away. I’m going to give that to Ken Jones to go help him run a political convention.’ I’ve never heard that they’re not mutually exclusive. Anybody giving us a million dollars is not going to skimp on other charitable activity because anybody that can give a million can probably give another million to a charity and they will.”

Anne Drake, vice president of the non-partisan political club, asked the question. And his prediction that kids with cancer will be funded as usual doesn’t fly with her.

“Our non-profits in the area are suffering. You’ve had the Dali museum that struggled to raise their money. You have things like CASA. You have things like the Alzheimer’s Association that are struggling to raise their money and I beg to differ with him. I think absolutely, people have a budget. I work for a for-profit. We have a budget for our donations. We have so much in that budget and we allocate it.”

The RNC isn’t just an opportunity for Tampa Bay to make a buck. Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to flood the area with anti-Republican messages. And the City of Tampa is doing their best to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. But the set-up is reminiscent of the 2008 RNC in St. Paul where they are still working through civil suits alleging unlawful arrest and police brutality. Rick Edmonds, past president of Suncoast Tiger Bay, hopes that Tampa is reviewing their experience to avoid the same problems.

“On the other hand, I think all that was before the Occupy Movement and I’ve actually had the chance to talk to some of the people in the community and I think that could add a whole new wrinkle to it.”

“From the Host Committee’s standpoint, we have nothing to do with that debate. Thank God.”

And that was pretty much Jones’ answer to any question related to security and possible infringement of rights. That includes provisions in Tampa’s proposed Clean Zone ordinance that would prohibit anyone from bringing items that could be used as weapons into the area, including water guns. That is, unless it’s a permitted firearm. Jones maintained his stance that the Host Committee has nothing to do with it, but did weigh in by saying if a person has a concealed weapon permit, they can bring a squirt gun into the Clean Zone.

“Because that’s the thing. If you want to consider a concealed weapon a squirt gun or something that looks like a gun and you have a permit to carry a weapon, that becomes the issue. You’re now inside of a Clean Zone that is set up for a single event. But even that withstanding, you’re not legally allowed to preempt state law.”

Jones also said that major threats to the Tampa Bay area are infinitesimal. He cited the $50 million dollars given to Tampa for security efforts by the Federal government. And he claimed that the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte could be a bigger security risk because that will host the President, Vice President and many officials at the front of the presidential line of succession.

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