Monday, September 2, 2019

Paying the Baseball Lawyer: A Spending Black Hole Benefitting Private Interests?

How much money has been paid to the expensive New York baseball lawyer for Hillsborough county's pursuit of a new Rays baseball stadium?
Irwin Raij
Baseball lawyer contracted to pursue new Rays stadium
There has never been a transparent discussion publicly disclosing the cost of the baseball lawyer or the total costs associated with Hillsborough County pursuing a new stadium. What exactly have taxpayers been paying for?

We received the invoices paid to the baseball law firm from a public records request. Almost $760K has been paid to the New York baseball lawyer Irwin Raij from October 2014 through July 2019. 

Raij was paid hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to negotiate in secrecy and in backroom meetings while keeping the taxpayers paying his fees totally in the dark. 

The county commissioners never requested regular updates to publicly discuss the progress being made or the cost to taxpayers to pursue a new Rays stadium. 

Perhaps because the commissioners used the Consent Agenda to hire Raij in October 2014. The Consent Agenda is used to approve numerous items with a single vote with NO discussion. 

Consent Agenda items are supposed to be routine, procedural or noncontroversial. Topics not discussed previously by the board should not be put on the Consent Agenda.

Hiring an expensive New York lawyer to pursue a new baseball stadium is not routine, it is not procedural, it is not without controversy and it should have been discussed.

Below is the Consent Agenda item from the October 15, 2014 BOCC meeting that was used to approve hiring the baseball law firm.
This Consent Agenda item misled the public because the public was not properly notified this item was to hire a New York law firm to pursue a new Rays stadium. The public was not provided an opportunity to weigh in. 

With no discussion by the commissioners about the cost, spending limits, duration or time limits, paying Raij went on auto-pilot.

The Times admitted the "hush-hush" way the lawyer was hired when they finally reported about it three months later on January 15, 2015 in their article Hillsborough officials quietly hired law firm with ties to baseball:
One of the most notable steps Hillsborough County has taken toward its desire to woo the Tampa Bay Rays to the county was also one of the quietest: County commissioners in October agreed to hire Foley & Lardner, a law firm with extensive ties to Major League Baseball and a partner who is a former MLB president.
The County was not truthful with the taxpaying public by withholding the fact the county was hiring a high priced New York baseball to negotiate with the Rays.

The County hired Irwin Raij in 2014 when he was with Foley & Lardner in New York. Raij left Foley & Lardner and went to O'Melveny & Myers LLP in 2017.

While the public was not told why Raij was hired in 2014, Raij obviously knows why he was hired.

Raij's bio states he is "Representing Hillsborough County in its ongoing efforts to build a new ball park for the Tampa Bay Rays." He's more honest with the public than the county who hired him.

Since the original contract with Mr. Raij in 2014, there have been some amendments and renewals. They all went thru the Consent Agenda with no discussion and no questions asked.

The Consent Agenda items associated with the baseball lawyer contract provided no dollar amount or estimated cost - just a statement the item could be accommodated within the current budget.

The latest contract with O'Melveny & Myers/Mr. Raij was approved in a Consent Agenda item at the August 2, 2017 BOCC meeting. It is 2 year contract with one renewal term for 2 more years. 

That August 2017 Consent Agenda item not only approved the baseball lawyer contract, it hired nine outside legal counsel firms, including four hired specifically for EMINENT DOMAIN issues.

The baseball lawyer's contract only stipulates a fee schedule - how much the county will pay for his legal services - and a contract term. There is no spending cap, no spending limit and no maximum dollar amount associated with it. The baseball lawyer contract is a spending black hole.
Baseball lawyer contract is a spending
black hole
From October 2014 thru December 2018, Hillsborough County paid the baseball lawyer almost $673K. But the cost to the taxpayer also includes the time and work effort expended by the county's highest paid staff pursuing the stadium. 

When we requested an accounting from the county for the total costs, including the time and effort expended by county resources, associated with pursuing the new Rays stadium, we only received the invoices paid to the baseball lawyer. 

As the Rays agreement with St. Petersburg to Hillsborough County was about to expire at the end of last year, suddenly the Tampa Sports Authority stepped in to take over paying the county's baseball lawyer contract.

At the Tampa Sports Authority meeting of November 27, 2018,  the Board approved piggy backing on the county's contract with O'Melveny & Myers/Mr. Raij. Mr. Raij is now working for the Tampa Sports Authority and they are now paying the baseball lawyer's bills. 

The Tampa Sports Authority is subsidized by County and city of Tampa tax dollars.

Apparently, County Administrator Mike Merrill and County Staff decided to hand off paying the baseball lawyer, still under the county's contract, to the Tampa Sports Authority. Merrill informed the commissioners of his action via an internal memo.

From January thru July this year, the Tampa Sports Authority has paid Raij, the baseball lawyer, over $86K. 

The minutes from the Tampa Sports Authority November 27, 2018 meeting reflect that Board member Andrew Scaglione recused himself and left the room when votes were taken regarding the baseball lawyer and another agenda item selecting the baseball stadium builder. Scaglione stated he was recusing himself because he owns property where the stadium is proposed to be built.

The baseball stadium working group included Hagan, Mayor Buckhorn, the Tampa Sports Authority and some unnamed private interests. The baseball working group worked for years behind closed doors with the unnamed private interests, the Rays, the taxpayer funded baseball lawyer and the highest paid county staff pursuing a new Rays stadium outside of Sunshine.

Noah Pransky at WTSP Channel 10 reported last December the sudden shift to the Tampa Sports Authority to pay the New York baseball lawyer under the county's contract raises questions about the "private interests" the working group was negotiating with.

At the BOCC meeting held on October 1, 2014, the meeting just prior to hiring the baseball lawyer through the Consent Agenda, the county commission approved Hagan's request to create the baseball working group. But the commissioners approved creating the baseball working group on the premise and with the promise from Hagan that he would provide periodic updates to the commissioners. 

In October 2014, Hagan promised to ensure the commissioners would have an opportunity to weigh in on proposed sites, especially since county funding was also being pursued.

None of that ever occurred. According to this November 10, 2017 Times article, Hagan publicly announced the proposed Ybor site without informing the commissioners:
Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken Hagan made a surprise announcement Tuesday: The county has a preferred location for a Tampa Bay Rays ballpark on the southern edge of Ybor City. 
The potential ballpark site consists of 11 parcels owned by five different companies, including Tampa Electric, a roofing supplies distributor based in New York City and several limited liability companies formed by Darryl Shaw, the CEO of the BluePearl veterinary clinics, as well as Joe Capitano Sr., Jacob "Booky" Buchman, Salvatore Guagliardo and Andy Scaglione.
Hagan's commission colleague Victor Crist was livid Wednesday that he learned about the plan through the media. Crist said it was a violation of protocol for Hagan to unveil a location and present it to the Rays without first getting the approval of the entire commission.

"This has had no vetting by the county commission. This has had no vetting of public input," Crist said. "This whole thing has been done in a vacuum behind the scenes, out of the sunshine and that is not how the Board of County Commissioners operates."
Pransky and another reporter from 10Investigates also reported (read the entire article, the links embedded and watch the video) last November right before the Tampa Sports Authority agreed to start paying the baseball lawyer's bills about text messages between Hagan and Raij. Those messages reveal the negotiations going on behind the scenes with the private interests - the land owners and those who bought up land in Ybor City at or near the proposed site for the stadium. 

Hagan and Scaglione both sit on the Tampa Sports Authority Board and are prohibited from coordinating on issues related to the sports authority - like a new baseball stadium. 

The latest chaos caused by the Rays is with them looking at splitting their season between Tampa Bay and Montreal.

Amidst all the chaos and the expiration of the talks with Hillsborough County, the Rays cannot talk to outside parties about playing games elsewhere without the permission of St. Petersburg. The Rays are contractually tied to playing in St. Petersburg through 2027.

According to this Times article, Kriseman and the Rays have been meeting but "If the Rays want to speak to Montreal, Kriseman said last month, it will not happen for free."

Hagan continues to pursue an Ybor City baseball stadium nowhere near the District 2 he represents. He is pursuing an entire baseball stadium "entertainment district" in Ybor City financed and subsidized with tourist taxes the county commission just raised, Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) property tax revenues/tax-increment financing (TIF's), federal opportunity zone incentives and a tax on food, drink and sports tickets.

The James Madison Institute reported that probes of CRA's, intended to redevelop urban slums or blighted areas, have revealed mismanagement and cronyism. The Heritage Foundation stated that federal opportunity zones often "benefit politically connected developers and investors who have rigged the system in their favor".

While Hillsborough County has the highest sales tax in the State and the county commissioners look to raise the gas tax, raise other taxes and raise stormwater fees again, the county is pursuing creative financing schemes for a new stadium that appears to benefit a select few.

Other cities have shown interest in getting a baseball team including Portland, Las Vegas, Montreal, Charlotte, Nashville,Vancouver.

To make things even stranger, Raij is also representing the group trying to bring baseball to Portland. Raij does not think there is any conflict of interest at this point.

And the Tampa Sports Authority keeps sending money down a spending black hole paying Raij's bills.

Background information:

Baseball lawyer contract/invoices
Invoices include calls/meetings/communications with Rays, County officials, Merrill, Landowners, Land Use attorneys, Financial Advisors, Investors, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, CitiGroup, Brightline, Ron Christaldi, Mayor Buckhorn and more

Tampa Sports Authority Board:
Commissioner Hagan, Tampa city council rep Orlando Gudes, Real Estate investors, Developers, Financiers and land use/developer attorney Vin Marchetti, previously a land use attorney for Hillsborough County and perhaps the most frequent lobbyist at County Center according to the county's lobbyist registry
Scaglione, appointed by the BOCC, is still on the Tampa Sports Authority Board but his term expired 06/30/2019

Ken Hagan, Sr., Commissioner Hagan's Father, is an active Commercial Real Estate broker according to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation and his Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. It's incredible that the County Commission sits by while Commissioner Hagan spends his time and our money chasing his own personal baseball stadium dream. And it wouldn't be any surprise if Ken Hagan Sr was, or is, involved in any of the underlying land acquisitions for the stadiums.