Tuesday, March 17, 2009

6551: Checking The Replay.

From The Miami Herald…

Race-based work on Florida Marlins stadium hits potential obstacle

By Jack Dolan and Charles Rabin

The proposal to build a new baseball stadium for the Florida Marlins has hit yet another potential snag—this one about race.

County Attorney Robert Cuevas reportedly told commissioners on Friday that he cannot approve the stadium deal, or allow it to come up for a vote, because the Marlins signed a compact promising 15 percent of the construction work to black-owned businesses.

The county phased out its practice of awarding contracts based on race after a federal court ruled it unconstitutional in the late 1990s. Because a Marlins stadium would be funded in large measure with public money, Cuevas is reportedly concerned that the ruling would also apply to the stadium project.

But late Monday afternoon, County Mayor Carlos Alvarez’s spokeswoman, Victoria Mallette, released a statement saying the deal between the Marlins and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People “is a private one” that has “no impact on the Baseball Stadium Agreements” pending before the county commission.

“Efforts are ongoing to address the concerns and find a workable solution,” Mallette wrote.

“We certainly don’t think the deal is dead,” she later added.

The Marlins signed the agreement with the local chapter of the NAACP and the Miami-Dade Chamber of Commerce, which represents black-owned businesses, on Friday without the participation of county officials.

The compact pledges money from the Marlins’ $120 million share of the construction budget; the rest of the money for the $639 million project would come from public sources.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s their money, it’s still our project,” said County Commissioner Carlos Gimenez said.

“[Cuevas] is protecting us, his clients, from lawsuits arising out of the fact that there is a race-based set-aside,” Gimenez said. “He said he will not sign off on any of the documents dealing with Major League Baseball.”

Reached by The Miami Herald on Monday, Cuevas refused to discuss what he told Gimenez and other commissioners. “I’m not going to comment on the advice I’ve given my clients,” he said.

Cuevas’ concerns set off a series of hastily arranged meetings on Monday between city and county leaders, their lawyers, the Marlins and the NAACP—trying to hash out a deal that satisfies the Marlins and black leaders but does not expose local officials to a reverse-discrimination lawsuit.

Late Monday, Marlins President David Samson said upcoming stadium votes in Miami on Thursday and Miami-Dade in Monday are not in jeopardy. Both governments must approve stadium-related contracts before the facility can be built.

“We’re addressing [the concerns] in a way that will give comfort to the county attorney,” Samson said, choosing his words carefully and refusing to go into detail. “We’re all working together to amend the documents to what is acceptable to the attorney.”

The new version will be race- and gender-neutral, according a memo that Assistant Miami City Attorney Veronica A. Xiques sent to city officials on Monday.

It will be more of a “recruitment and outreach program” with the NAACP helping to get disadvantaged businesses to apply for stadium construction jobs, she wrote.

Under the terms of the proposed deal, the county would own the 37,000-seat stadium, built on the site of the now demolished Orange Bowl in Little Havana. The team hopes to play ball there beginning in 2012—which would end its long-running quest for a permanent home in South Florida.

Miami Commissioners Marc Sarnoff and Tomás Regalado both said on Monday that city attorney Julie Bru warned commissioners several times that if they vote for minority set-asides, they might expose the city to a lawsuit.

The imbroglio over minority contracts gives new ammunition to stadium skeptics like County Commissioner Sally Heyman, who has criticized the county administration for holding back large reams of data about the deal until the day of scheduled votes.

“I have to tell you this whole thing makes me nervous, I’m really concerned about people in the ninth inning taking shortcuts” that could cost taxpayers, Heyman said.

No comments: