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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Hagerstown Held for $30M Ransom by the Suns!

    The Hagerstown City Council meetings are fascinating! The group dynamic, the heady discussions, the theater all just keep me on the edge of my seat. I didn't realize how much fun they are until building a new Hagerstown stadium became an issue during an election year. I'm sorry, I meant to say the Hagerstown Multiuse Sports and Events Center (HMSEC). After what was revealed at the meeting today, however,  I am going to start calling it what it is: The Suns Stadium. As it turns out, the Washington Nationals told the mayor and council that they would be perfectly willing to stay at the old stadium if it was upgraded. It was the Suns owners who said that they would not play at the old stadium. The Suns owners said that was nonnegotiable. The Suns owners are demanding a new stadium in order to stay in Hagerstown. That was when they had the leverage of the interest of Winchester, VA. Winchester has since decided to pass, but Hagerstown is still being held for ransom by the owners of the Suns!
    Who is going to pay the $30 million ransom for Hagerstown? The taxpayer! We know that the stadium has a commitment of about $10 million from Washington County  and about $10 million from the city of Hagerstown. We were told months ago that the next step was to get a commitment from the state of Maryland. We've been told that they have the nod from the state, but a photo-op by the Comptroller does not amount to one cent of funding. This will be up to the local delegation to fight for if they have the stomach for it with the state budget already bulging at the seams.The public has also been told for months that mayor and council are working hard to get private investors. In fact Councilman Metzner said at one point that he had many phone calls a day from interested investors. None have been announced. 
    Today they gave the taxpayer a few crumbs! We were told that there is one investor and that one investor is willing to invest $15 million! They can't say who it is. Any guesses on who that one investor might be? They can't tell us any details of the deal. But the taxpayer should feel happy to know that they might not be on the hook for all of the ransom money. It even sounded like this investor had completely altruistic motives and we should be very, very grateful!
   Are you kidding me! The Suns is a business! They are just one business who may or may not be good for the community. That hasn't even been sufficiently proven! There are facts and figures and examples that suggest otherwise. How many other businesses would like to be able to take a city, a county, and a state for ransom and be honored and even thanked for doing it! Unilever should have been so lucky! This is crony Capitalism! defines crony Capitalism as an economy that is nominally free market, but allows for preferential regulation and other favorable government intervention based on personal relationships. In such a system, the false appearance of "pure" capitalism is publicly maintained to preserve the exclusive influence of well-connected individuals. We have one business, the Suns, making demands. We have local government officials bending over backwards in a bad economy, in a depressed city to meet their financial demands.
    Hagerstown has seriously pressing needs. We have seen over 50 city employees laid off. We have seen them cut every corner and stretch their budget. We saw our seasoned police officers decide to retire due to budget constraints, to be replaced by rookies, and many positions not filled at all. We see the empty properties. We don't have enough code inspectors left to force compliance as properties fall into disrepair. We see the increase of drug-related crimes and all degrees of theft. The roads are patched with cheaper material. Our trash collection was cut back to one day. But we are going to fight Heaven and Hell to pay the Suns their ransom?!
   Much of the meeting was a discussion about "the public information process." They needed to figure out how and when to let the taxpayer know what they are being asked to fund and all of those related pesky details.
   Bruce Zimerman, City Administrator, suggested a round-table forum. He described it as a format "that provides calmer discussion." First, mayor and council will present facts that the taxpayer should have known all along. The people paying the bill should get the respect of being informed throughout the process, not after the deals have been made. After their presentation, there will be elected officials placed at round tables, each with a different topic of discussion as related to The Suns Stadium. City staff will also be assigned tables. The Downtown Alliance will have a table. Do tell. Concerned citizens can go from table to table and have a discussion with elected officials and city staff. I'm sorry, but I don't think the public wants a controlled discussion. The public wants to be heard. If I'm at one table I can't hear the questions, much less the answers from all of the other tables! I want to hear every question and every answer! I want it all to be recorded as public record. They have had "control" of this process all along. It's time to hear from the public. 
   Ashley suggested the forum be held at the old stadium. That was nixed, but tours of the old stadium with a scripted tour guide educating the public on why the old stadium can not be used for baseball ever again should begin right away. All they really would have to say is that the Suns owners will not allow the Suns to play there!
   I have to give a few of the council members props. Forest Easton spoke up and asked why weren't any of the details revealed in the meeting today told before now. Councilman Metzner said all the right things, albeit a little late in my humble opinion. He said "we have to  inform the public and do it soon. We have to decide our bottom line and get very public very quickly. We need X-amount of dollars or it's not going to work. We have to do it before signing the lease or it will be us telling the public what we have already decided and agreed to instead of the public telling us what they want us to do." Councilman Brubaker agreed. Councilwoman Haywood said they had to keep secret throughout the process and that she preferred the calmer discussion of the round table forum. Councilman Breichner seemed to agree with her, as did the mayor. 
   Oh, I forgot to mention that there is apparently a Plan B. If The Suns Stadium isn't built, they could possibly use the old stadium for unaffiliated teams.
   In the end they decided to begin the tours. If ever there was a place for an old fashioned TEA Party...


1 comment:

  1. WOW! Keep peeling that onion layer by layer!


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