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Sarasota Friday, Apr. 23, 2010 7 years ago

County official removed from spring-training project

by: Robin Roy City Editor

A Sarasota County division director has been removed from all dealings with spring-training baseball amid allegations he improperly tried to influence two contract bids.

Larry Arnold, director of community services, will no longer have any interaction with the Baltimore Orioles stadium project. County Administrator Jim Ley announced the move Thursday evening, saying he thought it was a prudent move while he conducted a review of Arnold’s actions.

The Sarasota Observer reported Thursday on a lawsuit against the county, which accuses Arnold of working behind the scenes to secure contracts for two companies.

In August 2008, when the county was still pursuing the Boston Red Sox, Arnold was on a selection committee to choose a facilitator to help negotiate with the baseball team.

Arnold told committee members he had received some wording for the county’s bid request from a source of his. After receiving a bid from Barrett Sports Group, fellow committee members discovered that his source was Barrett Sports Group itself. The language in its bid was identical to the language that Arnold said came from his source.

Barrett was awarded the contract.

Then in July 2009, when the county was searching for an owner’s representative to look after the county’s interests during negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles, one of the bidders was International Facilities Group.

Arnold told selection committee members that a friend named Jerry recommended IFG.

Jerry is Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls and father of IFG executive Michael Reinsdorf. Jerry Reinsdorf apparently treated Arnold to dinner before IFG submitted its contract bid.

At least two people working with the selection committee voiced concerns about Arnolds involvement, and the county’s chief financial planning officer, Jeff Seward, said he felt Arnold was “meddling.”

But Arnold still was appointed to the evaluation committee that would grade the owner’s representative candidates.

Arnold gave IFG a perfect score, and the company was awarded a $500,000.

Ley also has asked Karen Rushing, Sarasota County’s clerk of courts, to conduct an internal audit of the entire process.

He e-mailed commissioners and other top county staff about the audit request: “While the matters raised require a fair evaluation, if what I have seen in bits and pieces is true, then I am very disappointed and sad that the judgment or actions of one might cast a patina of doubt on the entire endeavor.”

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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