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Sarasota Thursday, Apr. 22, 2010 7 years ago

Our View


Talk about smoking guns.

The smoke is billowing from the gun barrels of Sarasota County staff members and two private companies awarded bids to oversee the redevelopment of Ed Smith Stadium for the Baltimore Orioles.

Based on news reports last week and this week by City Editor Robin Roy of The Sarasota Observer (see page 1) and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, a trail of e-mails makes it appear incontrovertible that county officials involved in the stadium project inappropriately — and perhaps illegally — interfered in the bid process. And this interference gave Barrett Sports Group and Chicago-based International Facilities Group an unfair advantage to win $60,000 and $500,000 bids, respectively.

The details of this blatant favoritism came to light thanks to lawyer Andrea Mogensen and her two clients, Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine. The two groups have sued Sarasota County, alleging county officials and the Sarasota County Commission violated open-government laws in their negotiations to bring the Baltimore Orioles to Sarasota and Ed Smith Stadium.

The details are self-evident. They center on Larry Arnold, the county’s executive director of community services; Dan Barrett, principal of California-based Barrett Sports Group, which represented the county in negotiations with the Orioles; and International Facilities Group, a Chicago firm that was bidding to become the owner’s representative on the redevelopment of Ed Smith Stadium.
Let’s start with City Editor Robin Roy’s report in The Sarasota Observer last week, thanks to Mogensen’s disclosures:

“On June 11, 2009, two months before the county began writing the RFP (request for proposal) for the owner’s rep, Dan Barrett, owner of Barrett Sports Group, sent the following e-mail to three executives from International Facilities Group, a facilities-management company from Chicago: ‘I have strongly recommended you guys to the county, and I have emphasized how important it is to have an owner’s rep in this project. The original owner’s representative language was added by me (with you guys in mind).’”

A month later, Deputy County Administrator Dave Bullock asked Barrett for help in crafting the language in the RFP for an owner’s representative that would oversee the redevelopment of Ed Smith Stadium.

Barrett followed Bullock’s request by sending another e-mail to principals of International Facilities Group: “I told the county I would get them some RFP language for owner’s rep services. Let me know if you have any examples. Also, let me know if you have any specific language or requirements that could be included in an RFP that would differentiate you guys from others.”

In addition to Barrett’s angling to tilt the bid process in International Facilities Group’s favor, Arnold lobbied on the Chicago company’s behalf. As The Sarasota Observer reports this week, a county employee, after reading documents related to the bidding, reported to the county’s chief financial officer that Barrett Sports Group’s application “exactly” matched “the information Larry gave us.” She said Arnold apparently obtained the wording from Barrett “and he didn’t tell us … I don’t remember Larry telling us (Barrett Sports Group) worked with IFG.”

In response to that memo, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Seward acknowledged: “This process was not as tight as I would have liked it.”

Arnold communicated several times before the bid was awarded with officials from International Facilities Group and with the father of one of its partners. That was Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox and father of Michael Reinsdorf, an International Facilities partner.

In one e-mail, sent to Bullock, Arnold said Reinsdorf recommended the hiring of International Facilities as the county’s owner’s representative. This came after Arnold and Reinsdorf apparently had dinner together.
To compound this web of impropriety, Arnold was appointed to the evaluation committee that was to grade the owner’s representative candidates. Surprise: Arnold gave International Facilities Group a perfect score.
What makes this stink even more is there are victims — all of those companies that did not win the $500,000 contract. Each of them spent time and money to submit its bid. The Herald-Tribune reported the reactions of two of the losers:

• Thomas Huff, a Punta Gorda-based architect who oversaw the renovation of the Charlotte Sports Park stadium, told the Herald-Tribune: “After 30 seconds on IFG’s Web site, it became very clear how they got the job. It had nothing to do with baseball. There was another agenda clear through. I think it was pure politics.”

• Rick Fawley, president of Bradenton-based Fawley Bryant Architects, told the newspaper his company spent $40,000 on its bid. “Had we known that somebody was feeding that direct information in there, we probably wouldn’t have spent the time and energy to go after it,” Fawley said. “We would have known it was a fait accompli.”

Altogether, none of this — county officials and the other participants’ behavior and actions — is surprising.
Taxpayers all over the country have seen this kind of crookedness, politicking and rule bending again and again when it comes to big public projects. Indeed, it’s simply remarkable what elected and public officials have done over the past three decades to woo and keep professional sports franchises; to build their sports arenas; and otherwise abuse the public trust with special deals and huge tax subsidies.

Sarasota officials have proven they are no different than any of them. In spite of public opposition, our public officials spent a few million dollars to buy park land for a stadium that will not be built; they worked furiously behind the scenes to win over the Red Sox and Orioles; they committed taxpayers’ money to bond debt to refurbish Ed Smith Stadium. And, in the end, they proved again why taxpayers are and should be so cynical about the incompetence of government whenever government gets involved in ventures it should not.

There are many Sarasotans who chafe over the lawsuits that Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government and Citizens for Sunshine have filed against the county, saying they are nuisance suits needlessly costing taxpayer money. We’ll take the opposite side and encourage Mogensen to press on.
The public needs to know the truth. Shine the light on the arrogance that occurs when elected and public officials feel empowered and emboldened to spend other people’s money because they believe they, as public officials, know better than the little, individual taxpayers what’s best for the taxpayers.

International affairs typically are not a subject for this page. On occasion, however, there are issues that cannot be overlooked. The Obama administration’s horrendous treatment of Israel is one of them. To that end, we’re reprinting the contents of Eli Wiesel’s full-page ad in last week’s Wall Street Journal. It’s a powerful reminder, and one our president should heed. — Editor

It was inevitable; Jerusalem once again is at the center of political debates and international storms. New and old tensions surface at a disturbing pace. Seventeen times destroyed and 17 times rebuilt, it is still in the middle of diplomatic confrontations that could lead to armed conflict. Neither Athens nor Rome has roused that many passions.

For me, the Jew that I am, Jerusalem is above politics. It is mentioned more than 600 times in Scripture — and not a single time in the Koran. Its presence in Jewish history is overwhelming. There is no more moving prayer in Jewish theory than the one expressing our yearning to return to Jerusalem. To many theologians, it IS Jewish history; to many poets, a source of inspiration. It belongs to the Jewish people and is much more than a city; it is what binds one Jew to another in a way that remains hard to explain.

When a Jew visits Jerusalem for the first time, it is not the first time; it is a homecoming. The first song I heard was my mother’s lullaby about and for Jerusalem. Its sadness and its joy are part of our collective memory.

Since David took Jerusalem as his capital, Jews have dwelled inside its walls with only two interruptions; when Roman invaders forbade them access to the city and, again, when under Jordanian occupation,
Jews, regardless of nationality, were refused entry into the old Jewish quarter to meditate and pray at the Wall, the last vestige of Solomon’s temple.

It is important to remember; had Jordan not joined Egypt and Syria in the 1967 war against Israel, the old city of Jerusalem would still be Arab. Clearly, while Jews were ready to die for Jerusalem they would not kill for Jerusalem.

Today, for the first time in history, Jews, Christians and Muslims all may freely worship at their shrines. And, contrary to certain media reports, Jews, Christians and Muslims ARE allowed to build their homes anywhere in the city. The anguish over Jerusalem is not about real estate but about memory.

What is the solution? Pressure will not produce a solution. Is there a solution? There must be, there will be. Why tackle the most complex and sensitive problem prematurely? Why not first take steps which will allow the Israeli and Palestinian communities to find ways to live together in an atmosphere of security. Why not leave the most difficult, the most sensitive issues, for such a time?

Jerusalem must remain the world’s Jewish spiritual capital, not a symbol of anguish and bitterness, but a symbol of trust and hope. As the Hasidic master Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav said, “Everything in this world has a heart; the heart itself has its own heart.”

Jerusalem is the heart of our soul, the soul of our soul.


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