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Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sloppy Handling of Harry Grove Stadium Lease

George Wenschhof

We are now well into July and still no presentation to The City of Frederick mayor and board of aldermen has taken place. Yet, reports indicate contract negotiations with The Keys are ongoing. In fact, city administrator Josh Russin informed the press the three city employees (Russin was one of them) who were on the contract negotiating team

This is important for several reasons. One, there has been no formal action taken by the mayor and board to accept the proposal presented by The Keys or to authorize the mayor to pursue contract negotiations with them.

The other critical issue is the proposal presented by Frederick Atlantic, LLC expires as of August 15, 2011. Leading to the possibility contract negotiations with The Keys could drag on past August 15, leaving the city with no leverage in negotiations.

In addition, if the persistent rumors The Keys are for sale and The Baltimore Orioles are planning to move one of their minor league affiliated teams to their new Spring Training facility in Florida turn out to be true, where would that leave The City of Frederick?

The possibility the city would be left without any contract and without a team to play in Harry Grove Stadium could become a reality.

Unfortunately, it's been a public display of a learning curve by the current city administration on how to enter into a lease of a city owned property.

One has to hope Jack Lavoie, Managing Member of Frederick Atlantic LLC, a lawyer by profession, does not pursue legal action on this matter.

For years now, I have been calling for a city policy on the sale/lease of city owned properties, including a list detailing the disposition of each property. Availability for lease, sale or other, along with an expense/revenue projection for each should be a standard operating procedure. My question has been; how, in the world can one manage without knowing this information?

Alderman Michael O’Connor echoed my thoughts during the recent budget talks.

I brought up the lack of a city policy on leases and the lack of information on the disposition of city owned properties once again during discussions I had with the current four Democratic aldermen in January and February of this year. Republican Shelley Aloi was unable to schedule a time to meet. The topic came up as we were discussing the inappropriate sole source lease negotiations pertaining to city own space for use as a Restaurant.

During those same discussions, along with one I had with Mayor Randy McClement at the same time, the breakdown of the lease renewal of the Harry Grove Stadium was also discussed, leading me to opine in an earlier column dated April 20, the issuance of a Request For Proposals (RFP) by the Mayor was a good move. A move I hoped would be best for the City of Frederick.

What has happened since only highlights the inexperience of the current administration.

Secrecy has surrounded the entire RFP process with the details of the proposals submitted by the two bidders; Frederick Atlantic, LLC and The Keys, only made available after a freedom of information act request was submitted.

New City administrator Josh Russin initially informed me in a telephone conversation after the review committee completed their review in late May, the bids along with the committee recommendation to move forward in negotiating a contract with The Keys, would be presented to the mayor and board of aldermen in a workshop in June with contract approval hopeful in August.

Several recent messages left with Mr. Russin asking specifically what will be the process of approval have not been answered as of publication date of this column. I inquired if the plan was to present the two proposals and the committee recommendation to the mayor and board and then follow, based on mayor and board action, with the presentation of a contract for their action.

Surely, they can not expect the aldermen and mayor to consider a contract at the same time, as approval to negotiate a contract has not been given as I stated previously.

Time, is now of the essence, as the August 15 date nears the Frederick Atlantic LLC bid proposal expires. A difficult position to have put the city in.

This issue also illuminates the growing rift Democratic alderman Kelly Russell has with alderman Karen Young (D) and mayor McClement (R). Russell has battled the mayor over his lack of communication with aldermen on administrative issues. An issue, which over the years and other past administrations, has surfaced due to the nature of charter government which establishes a legislative (board of aldermen) and administrative (mayor) body.

Russell and Young have been sparring for quite some time over various issues. The most recent issue being the negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) on the extension of a contract. Russell, a former city police officer, called for an end to the secret talks and asked for more openness in the process.

Leading Young, who has called for more transparency in regard to the Harry Grove Stadium lease, to respond the city should be consistent with their policies.

Young and Russell have expressed differences on both of these issues, with Russell supporting The Keys and the FOP and Young favoring a bid process for Harry Grove Stadium and pointing out the money is not there for raises and pension contribution for the FOP.

The Harry Grove Stadium lease has illustrated the need for a policy on the lease of city owned property and the creation of a system to enable the management of the same.

Let's hope new city administrator Josh Russin moves forward soon on developing a policy to present to the mayor and board for their consideration.

Stay Tuned...


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