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Critics say the fix was in for stadium deal

10:58 PM, Sep 2, 2010   |    comments
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Sarasota, Florida -- Construction is underway at Ed Smith Stadium so that it will be ready for the Baltimore Orioles to use in Spring Training next year. Sarasota Commissioner, Jon Thaxton says it is clear that Americans have a love affair with sports.

Thaxton is the only member of the Board who voted against the $31 million renovations for the stadium. He says the county spent 10 times the amount of money as it has in the past 20 years in one single economic generator and Thaxton says for him the numbers don't add up. 

But there is a bigger controversy than the $31 million being spent to renovate the stadium and it involves the contract that was awarded to a company that was hired to oversee the construction as the owner's representative. 

Andrea Mogensen, who is representing Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government says her clients are very disturbed how the process went. 

Mogensen says there were several irregularities in the way in which the bid was awarded including the fact the company that got the final bid wrote the criteria. 

She says you don't need a law degree to figure out that is not the way the process is supposed to work. 

E-mails we obtained show a consultant hired by the county to help chose the owners representative wrote to them and said "let me know if you have any specific language or requirements that would differentiate you guys from others." and another saying, " let's talk strategy to give you the best chance to get hired." 

Assistant County Administrator Dave Bullcok says the company that got the contact is doing a great job and adds it is not unusual to ask contractors help write the bid document. However, Bullock admits it should not have been just one firm, the one that got the contract that was setting the criteria. 

And while International Facilities Group, IFG, wasn't on the list of finalist for several members of the selection committee as the company that would be the best owners representative for the project, the county staffer who had inside connections with the company was hot to see that IFG was chosen. When the committee took the vote, guess what, IFG was the winner. 

Mogensen says the fact the initial ranking appeared to have changed and there is no answer why, raises some questions.

Some of those questions might be answered in the fact that the original point man for the county, Larry Arnold was wined and dined by the owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but Jerry Reinsdorf also happens to be the father of Michael Reinsdorf, the head of the company that got the final bid. 

Thaxton says the staffer made an error in judgment. 

What's that costing you? $500,000 for the management contract, $91,000 in legal fees, $60,000 for the consultant, who appeared as if he was steering the contract to Reinsdorf and of course $31 million for the renovations. 

Thaxton says one of the things he kept hearing is that everyone spends money on sports teams like this. He says he doesn't believe it is a good moral compass to follow. 

But it appears to be a compass heading that many communities are following and they are using your tax dollars.

Mike Deeson

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