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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 22, 2010 7 years ago

Lawsuit accuses county official of influencing bid

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Despite warnings from city and county employees that a top county official had a personal interest in a spring-training stadium contract, that official was appointed to a selection committee that awarded contracts to companies with which he had ties.

The Sarasota Observer first reported last week on an amended lawsuit against the county’s dealings with the Baltimore Orioles. The lawsuit, filed by two citizens groups, claims the county conducted private negotiations with the baseball team, which violates Florida’s Sunshine Laws.

The lawsuit includes accusations that Larry Arnold, the county’s director of community services, worked behind the scenes to make sure two companies won two separate spring-training bids.

The suit claims in August 2008, when the county was still pursuing the Boston Red Sox, the county and city wanted to hire a professional facilitator experienced in negotiating large sports deals.

A selection committee, made up of local government employees, was assembled to choose that facilitator.
After a bid from Barrett Sports Group arrived, Pamela Brangaccio, the city’s liaison for the spring-training negotiations, noticed something unusual about Barrett’s bid and e-mailed Jeff Seward, the county’s chief financial planning officer.

“Anything you need to tell me?” she asked Seward.

Jenny Yarabek, the county’s project coordinator who worked with the selection committee, explained to Seward what Brangaccio meant.

She said Arnold told the committee he got some wording for the bid request from a source.

“The scope in their document exactly matches the information Larry gave us — apparently the ‘source’ he got it from was them, and he didn’t tell us,” Yarabek wrote to Seward. “Also, they are partners (or submitting together with) one of the other candidates we solicited. I don’t remember Larry telling us they worked with IFG.”

Yarabek was referring to the fact that Barrett Sports Group’s wording in its bid was identical to the wording that Arnold’s source provided. Yarabek concluded that Arnold’s source was Barrett Sports Group, yet he did not disclose that information to the committee.

Seward then sent this reply to Brangaccio: “I had asked Larry to assist in key points for the RFQ (Request for Qualifications) itself … It seems that some of the data that was provided was from a potential recipient of the RFQ itself. This process was not as tight as I would have liked it.”

Barrett Sports Group was awarded the contract in September 2008.

After negotiations with the Red Sox collapsed in October 2008, talks with the Baltimore Orioles became more intense.

Dan Barrett, owner of Barrett Sports Group, told three executives at International Facilities Group in June 2009 that he had convinced the county to hire an owner’s representative, which would represent the county’s interests during the construction of the new Orioles stadium.

He asked the IFG executives for language to place in the county’s bid request that would differentiate their company from others.

Deputy Administrator Dave Bullock said that it’s not uncommon for local governments to ask for outside help in drafting a bid request.

According to the lawsuit, that’s where Arnold again got involved.

Joe Briglia, an IFG executive, forwarded Barrett’s e-mail to Arnold and then apparently the two spoke on the phone, as evidenced by this e-mail from Arnold to a man named Jerry: “You confirmed my thoughts; and in fact, I just got off the phone with Joe a short while ago. Hope this note finds all well with you and family. Please let me know the next time you’re going to be in the area, my turn to buy dinner.”

Arnold e-mailed Bullock to tell him Jerry recommended IFG.

“Jerry” is Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls. He’s also the father of Michael Reinsdorf, another IFG executive.

E-mails show Arnold asked Yarabek for the IFG-provided language before she received it, stating that he could “probably help position you for best support from the team.”

Yarabek asked Seward what Arnold meant, and Seward replied that Arnold was “meddling.”

Nevertheless, on Aug. 24, 2009, Arnold 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 the $500,000 contract.

Arnold and Barrett did not return calls seeking comment.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial June 28.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected].

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