The Rock Cats-to-Hartford deal is such a Rabelaisian feast of knavery, greed, deceit and commonplace stupidity that you almost can't use it to teach a specific lesson about government. Because nothing about the process has been worthy or truthful, it's hard to zero in on one specific failing.
It's like trying to figure out the one place where the Crusades or Watergate went wrong. There isn't one. There is all. There's a book about the history of fiascoes. It's called "It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time," which sums up many public policy disasters including this one.
All the same, I want to use the Hartford deal to teach one lesson: Process is important. And by "process," I mean following the rules. I mean letting the public in on what you're doing. I mean not acting like a tyrant.
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Hartford, CT, USA
The problem is not confined to the Hartford baseball stadium. Consider the (probably underplayed) story last week in which emails revealed that energy regulators from the six New England states were scheming with energy companies to keep details about two massive energy projects out of the public view. The emails, obtained by the Conservation Law Foundation, not only showed two consultant reports withheld from the public but also email conversations about the desirability of keeping the citizens in the dark.
We're growing comfortably numb to government secrecy. Our state legislature, which ought to be completely transparent, now routinely jams surreptitiously drafted language into last-minute bills, hoping we'll all be too flat-footed to stop them. A common theme in both those bills and the New England energy fiasco is that lobbyists and corporate interests are heavily involved in writing the laws and rules under which those businesses will live.
The Hartford city leaders negotiated the baseball stadium deal in secrecy for 16 months. Keep in mind, we're talking about a city asset, like a school or a park or a city-owned garage. Can you imagine the public officials in your town planning for 16 months to spend $60 million of your money on something like that and never telling you?
Mayor Pedro Segarra announced the plan on June 4, with City Council President Shawn Wooden standing next to him. On June 8, Segarra said it was "a done deal." In other words, the time for your public input was never. Last week, my WNPR colleague Jeff Cohen reported that the city has already put the stadium architect job out to bid, even though the stadium itself hasn't been approved.
Meanwhile, the deal is falling apart. The voters don't like the largesse bestowed on the wealthy Rock Cats owners. Wooden is getting clubbed by state Sen. Eric Coleman, his opponent in a primary for Coleman's seat, for being a directionless tool. Wooden, who stood with Segarra and never objected to the "done deal," is now moving backward like a crawfish on crack and insisting on bigger private investment.
Here's why you don't sneak behind our backs and make a deal like this: You look like a bunch of rubes. The people you're dealing with are a lot shrewder than you, and they're taking you to the cleaners.
Segarra and his mates were occasionally dealing with Art Solomon. His kids own the Rock Cats. He owns two other minor league teams. He wrote a whole book about how great it is to own minor league baseball teams because you don't have to pay the players, managers, coaches or trainers (because the parent club does), and meanwhile you're essentially running a restaurant that charges filet mignon prices for nachos.
But here's who he really is. Solomon was head of the $10 billion real estate unit at Lazard Freres. He was CFO of Fannie Mae and president of the Berkshire Group. Sending Segarra, Wooden and city development chief Thomas Deller into the lion's den with him is like having the "Dukes of Hazzard" broker a peace accord with ISIS. They're not savvy enough to do that without giving away the store: in this case a $60 million public investment when $10 to $20 million would have made sense.
So next time, guys, tell us what you're up to. We might actually know something.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.