The Tampa Bay Times is suing Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry for rights to view documents pertaining to its recently concluded search for a new president and CEO.
“In 2014, owing to the retirement of its long-time president and CEO Wit Ostrenko, Defendant MOSI embarked on a search for a new president and CEO. On June 4, 2015, MOSI announced that after a 10-month nationwide search during which 83 highly qualified candidates were identified, it had selected its own then-serving interim president and CEO, Molly Demeaulenaere, to fill the position,” the lawsuit reads.
Presumably the Times was interested in finding out why 83 candidates identified by an outside consultant hired by the county were dismissed and an in-house employee chosen.
Reporter Anne Steele requested documents pertaining to the selection process, but was denied.
“With respect to your requests, as a private organization MOSI ordinarily does not provide the specific documents you have requested as they are not typically subject to external disclosure,” the response read, according to lawsuit documents.
The Times then looked to its lawyers to ask MOSI to reconsider the request. The second attempt to obtain records was also denied.
“MOSI is a truly independent nonprofit organization; it is not an arm or agency of Hillsborough County or the City of Tampa, nor is it providing any services for, or otherwise acting on behalf of, those or any other public bodies,” read the second response from MOSI.
However, attorneys for the Times argue MOSI is operating as an arm of local government and makes several points to further that argument.
“When a public entity contracts with a private entity for the provision of certain goods or services to facilitate the public agency’s performance of its duties, the private entity’s records in that regard may be public if the ‘totality of factors’ indicates a significant level of involvement by the public agency,” the lawsuit argues.
And they point to a number of ways MOSI represents the county’s interests. First, Hillsborough County provides “real estate, buildings, facilities, equipment and also a substantial portion of the dollars to fund operations that make up the museum.”
The 1995 contract signed between the two parties also requires “that a member of the Board of County Commissioners and the County Administrator be members of the Defendant’s Board and gave power of appointment of a member of Defendant’s Executive Committee to the County Administrator.”
The county also funds some expenses for MOSI, including rainy day funds for seasonal variations in revenue. At one point the county provided a “management fee” to MOSI. In 1995-96 that amount was $430,000. It was supposed to de-escalate to $100,000 in 1999-2000.
“Niether the fees nor other County cash and credit support to the Defendant have ever de-escalated. They have escalated,” lawyers for the Times argue.
The Tampa Bay Times seeks not only to receive the requested documents from MOSI, but also reimbursement for legal fees and other costs associated with the lawsuit.