Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ex-Illinois Sports Facilities Authority Director Fired Because She Insisted On Rent Payments By White Sox Lawsuit Claims

The former director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority claims Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf ordered her fired from her job after she insisted the team be required to pay rent for the use of U.S. Cellular Field and objected to $7 million in taxpayers' money being used to build a restaurant across the street from the ball park on state-owned property from which Reinsdorf received all of the profits. Sound a little like our CIB shenanigans? The Chicago Tribune reports on a lawsuit filed by Perri Irmer against former Illinois Gov. James Thompson, who chaired the authority at the time, and Reinsdorf, for economic damages she claims she suffered when she was wrongfully terminated:
In her 32-page federal complaint filed Monday in Chicago, Perri Irmer alleges that after her 2004 arrival at the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, some of her efforts at raising new revenue and reforming the agency were rebuffed by Reinsdorf and Thompson, two longtime friends, and that they wielded their influence to get her fired in April 2011.
She alleges that she successfully pushed for the Sox to begin paying rent in 2008 to ISFA, and that afterward, Reinsdorf began lobbying then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich — now in prison — to have her fired.
"Under former Gov. Thompson's leadership, the ISFA Board had become ineffective to protect taxpayer interests, and was acting as nothing more than a cash cow puppet for Jerry Reinsdorf," the complaint states.
She is seeking unspecified damages for "substantial economic losses," according to the lawsuit.
Asked to comment on the suit Tuesday, Thompson said: "The allegations of the complaint are false." . . .
Thompson has long been tied to the Sox. In 1987, with Reinsdorf threatening to move his team to Florida — where a stadium was built to lure a team — then-Gov. Thompson worked the floors of the General Assembly to pass the law creating the authority and allowing a new park to be built for the Sox. The clock on the House floor was turned off in order to meet a midnight deadline. The authority oversaw construction of the stadium and the financing for it.
The Sox began paying $1.2 million in rent in 2008, a change Irmer alleges she pushed for. That same year she hired consultants to study developing state-owned land around the Cell, and the analysis showed building stores and restaurants would lead to profits for taxpayers, the suit says.
She alleges that in December 2008, Reinsdorf lobbied Blagojevich not to renew her contract and that Blagojevich's former chief of staff, John Harris, called board members — five days before Blagojevich's arrest. A board meeting ended without a decision regarding her contract.
Two days later she was told by "a private citizen" enlisted by Harris that there were still plans to remove her at the request of Reinsdorf, who was upset over paying rent, according to the suit. "This private citizen informed Perri Irmer of these statements by Reinsdorf and also that if she left ISFA quietly, she would be offered a job in the private sector," the lawsuit states.
Blagojevich was arrested, however, "before any threat to her employment ... was carried out," the lawsuit notes.
Irmer alleges that she protested the board's decision to build Bacardi at the Park, an upscale restaurant across from the Cell, on state-owned land while allowing the Sox to keep all the profits. The authority invested nearly $7 million, the Tribune and WGN-TV found in a 2011 investigation.
In February 2011, a month after the board extended Irmer's contract on a month-to-month basis, Irmer reduced a funding request of about $10 million for "enhancements" to the Cell from the Sox by about $7 million, according to the lawsuit.
Around the same time, she also unsuccessfully tried meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn, but she did meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's staff and other political players who could "impose reform," the suit says.
But Reinsdorf and Thompson "were determined to stop her," the suit claims. She alleges that on April 25, 2011, she was locked out of her office, and Thompson told her that if she refused to resign two days later at a special board meeting, "they 'had to' fire her, that her reputation would be ruined," the lawsuit says.
After she was fired, $7 million requested by the Sox was restored, according to the lawsuit.
I still remember the scene described in this article where Gov. Thompson lobbied members of the Illinois House of Representatives for passage of the legislation which created the authority and taxes to support construction of the new stadium for the White Sox. I was the floor manager for the House Republican leader at the time, who had to abstain from voting on the legislation because he co-owned a shopping center with Reinsdorf. Did you catch that, Eric Turner?  Anyway, this was one of the very rare occasions when Gov. Thompson actually worked the floor to lobby for the passage of a piece of legislation. I was thoroughly disgusted by the tactics he used to force our Republican members to vote with him in passing the legislation. There were threats of retaliation against lawmakers and their family members, offers of state jobs, state funding promises for projects in members' districts, you name it. It was quite a sight for a man who rose to fame prosecuting corrupt pols as U.S. Attorney in Chicago. I've still got an old copy of the Chicago Tribune laying around somewhere of a front-page picture with Gov. Thompson and me standing nearby looking up at the voting board while the Speaker held the vote open to see how many more arms he needed to twist to get the magical 60 votes he needed for passage.

I have absolutely no doubt that what Irmir alleges happened in her lawsuit is pretty close to the truth. There is no other person in Illinois who has engaged in more public corruption than former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson. Most of his closest pals in Illinois politics have either served time in prison or are currently serving time in prison. Because he's a former federal prosecutor, he seems to be above the law. I recall his expensive taste for antiques when he was governor. He used to stop in his favorite antique stores in Chicago and leave behind a list of items that he would like to add to his collection-- sort of like a bridal registry for a couple planning to get married. Friendly lobbyists stopped in and made the purchases to offer him as gifts. The man insisted there was nothing unethical about the practice, even though he sent politicians to prison for committing crimes that were far more petty than this unseemly practice. Although he is a Republican, there was nothing about his political views as far I was able to discern that aligned with the Republican Party. He became a Republican only as a matter of convenience because he could have never been nominated by the Democrats. He was much closer to Democratic leaders in Chicago than he ever was with my boss or other Republicans in Illinois. He and former Mayor Richard Daley are two peas in a pod. Chicago police officers used to jokingly refer to him as the Ice Cream Man of Lincoln Park because of his penchant for cruising young guys when he wasn't pretending to be a straight man. I'm surprised he hasn't come out of the closet by this late date.

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