Late last year, the Sports Corp. asked the Metropolitan Development Commission to rescind the taxpayer buyout language, which it did on a batch vote with no public input. In April, the Sports Corp. sold the plaza, which includes two ice rinks used by the public, for a reported $3.8 million to private developer KRG/CP. The Sports Corp. pocketed the money. Taxpayers, who ironically are still paying debt service on the land, got nothing.
The transaction is disturbing on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. For starters, there's the question of accountability. No elected official or elected body played any official role in the decision to rescind the taxpayer-protection language. The idea originated with the Sports Corp., which had an obvious self-interest in keeping the money.
The Metropolitan Development Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor, City-County Council and county commissioners, approved the resolution
on Dec. 19 in a group of routine resolutions on a voice vote. The resolution made no mention of the fact that it would cost taxpayers millions.
The timing is problematic. The vote took place a week before Christmas during the transition time between outgoing Mayor Bart Peterson and incoming Mayor Greg Ballard, who ousted Peterson in part thanks to property tax ire. Why wouldn't something this important to taxpayers have been put on hold for the new mayor's review?
Susan Williams, president of the Sports Corp., said she is certain the Ballard team was briefed on the matter. "I asked for assurance from the Peterson administration that this had been done. I didn't do it personally. But I was assured that that happened."
If Ballard were briefed on the issue, as Williams was told, it's strange that he didn't stand up for taxpayers, especially after campaigning on a pledge for open, transparent government. But Ballard hasn't been open about this topic. "We are not going to comment while there is a pending lawsuit," said his spokesman Marcus Barlow. No comment on a lawsuit that seeks to reimburse taxpayers $6 million? It seems that money could help cover the city's projected $26 million operating deficit.
It's unclear whether Ballard signed off on the deal or not; however, if the person who was calling the shots on his transition had anything to say about it, Williams may be correct in that she was assured Ballard had been advised of the deal and didn't oppose it. That person may not have disclosed to Ballard his own conflict of interest in advising the mayor-elect on such matters. That's what happens when you block outsiders with integrity from a seat at the table of your administration. You get all the bad government you deserve. The City could have badly used those extra dollars it gave up to Susan Williams and her elitists friends to spend as they please without any accountability to the public. Now, Mayor Ballard must look for deep cuts elsewhere to make up for the millions given away. If Williams and her buddies expect any respect from the taxpaying public, they will immediately turn over the proceeds from this land deal to the City so this lawsuit can be halted at once and further public monies not be wasted on outside counsel fees defending this avoidable lawsuit.