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Sarasota Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2010 8 years ago

Referendum may settle baseball suit

by: Robin Roy City Editor

The group suing the county and city over negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles has laid out its terms for a settlement. The biggest item — a county referendum on spring-training baseball.

Deputy County Attorney Frederick Elbrecht called the attorney for Citizens for Responsible Government and asked what it would take to settle its lawsuit.

The lawsuit accuses the county and city of negotiating with the Orioles outside of the public eye.

Plaintiff’s attorney Andrea Mogensen sent Elbrecht a letter Jan. 19 that detailed all of the terms:

• The county holds a public referendum at the next regularly scheduled county-wide election to see if the public supports spending taxpayer dollars “to subsidize a professional sports team.”

• Before the referendum, the county and city will hold at least two public meetings to discuss the pros and cons of building a new spring-training stadium.

• County-and-city employees would not be able to advocate for or against the referendum.

• The county would create a permanent Sunshine Oversight Committee to review county practices and policies to prevent violations of the Sunshine Laws.

• The county must pay all of the plaintiff’s attorney fees, which Mogensen’s legal consultant, Michael Barfield, said were about $50,000.

According to Barfield, the plaintiffs wanted to put the referendum on the March 16 special-election ballot for the school board, so they wouldn’t be costing taxpayers more money.

But Supervisor of Elections Kathy Dent said it was too late to get on the March ballot. The next scheduled election is the Aug. 24 primary. It would cost county taxpayers between $450,000 to $500,000 to hold a special election before Aug. 24.

Meanwhile, the county is working on a tight deadline to renovate Ed Smith Stadium. The Orioles will conduct spring training in the current facility, but construction was scheduled to begin as soon as the spring-training season ends in April.

The lawsuit has derailed that schedule for the time being, because the county had to delay issuing construction bonds until the suit was settled.

Deputy County Administrator Dave Bullock said it’s possible the Orioles could use the current stadium for their 2011 spring training as well.

County commissioners will discuss their next move Tuesday, Jan. 26.

Contact Robin Roy at [email protected]

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