This is a copy of an article that ran in the Sarasota Herald Tribune on Tuesday February 21, 2012. It goes into some detail about how the Orioles lied to the city of Sarasota about what the Orioles would do if Sarasota built them a brand new Spring Training facility. If it is still possible for you to be disgusted by the actions of the Orioles, than prepare to be disgusted.
By CATHY ANTUNES and PAT ROUNDS
Spring training is here, and the reliably glorious Sarasota weather provides the perfect environment for the Baltimore Orioles’ warm-up prior to opening day.
The Orioles’ Feb. 13 guest column in the Herald-Tribune offered examples of Orioles community support, yet the words “Cal Ripken Youth Academy” were notably absent. The Orioles’ commitment to bring a Cal Ripken Youth Academy to Sarasota is proving to be as elusive for the team as a winning season.
On July 22, 2009, Alan Rifkin, the attorney for the Baltimore Orioles, gave public testimony before the Sarasota County Commission regarding the final version of the spring training contract. Among his first words were, “I have signed the card.”
That card is the signature oath required of everyone giving testimony at a public hearing. Those testifying “swear or affirm under the penalty of perjury that the evidence or factual representation which I am about to give or present to this (Board) during any public hearing … are truthful.” The County Charter says knowingly violating the oath is punishable by fine or imprisonment. The spoken word matters in Sarasota County, and those who give input are expected to sign it.
So, under penalty of perjury, attorney Rifkin reaffirmed the commitment to bring a Cal Ripken Youth Baseball Academy to Sarasota County (Section 14 in the contract).
A ‘solid commitment’
According to Rifkin, the Ripken Academy would serve as the “off-season economic engine.” Rifkin read a testimonial letter from Cal Ripken Jr. about bringing his youth baseball academy to our community at Twin Lakes Park. Rifkin proclaimed that the baseball academy was no “fly-by-night” offer but a “solid commitment.” He indicated that fund raising for the academy would begin “immediately,” and that Ripken’s “folks” would take the lead.
Rifkin said Ripken had insisted on adding a phrase to Section 14 of the contract whereby he committed to holding youth activities as his staff conducted local fund raising. Yet no such phrase appears in the contract.
Now, nearly three years since the contract was signed, there is still no Cal Ripken Youth Baseball Academy in Sarasota County. And contrary to his glowing promises, Ripken has been in discussions for some time with Charlotte County about building his youth baseball academy near the Charlotte Stone Crabs, one of his minor-league teams. Ripken asked Charlotte to provide $10 million to build his youth academy, according to news reports.
The Orioles promises’ to Sarasota’s children weren’t limited to the Cal Ripken Youth Academy. The O’s vowed to “draw on all their resources” to support youth sports in Sarasota. Yet in February 2011, without public discussion, the County Commission gave the Orioles over one-third of the overflow parking receipts collected at public fields across from the Ed Smith Complex. Those dollars — over $8,000 — should all be going to local youth sports, not lining the Orioles’ pockets.
In addition, the Orioles’ statement in their guest column that they provided Sarasota with a ballpark is absurd. Sarasota County taxpayers have provided the Orioles with a ballpark; the tens of millions in bonds issued to fund renovations were secured with local sales tax dollars. Allowing Sarasota children to play on baseball fields that their parents have paid for is no reason for celebration or self-congratulation by the Orioles. It is the very least they can do. Even so, Little League and AAU players have been denied access to public fields supervised by the Orioles, disrupting their activities. The Orioles should be bending over backward to accommodate our children.
Citizens did not have an opportunity to review the Orioles contract prior to the public meeting, but commissioners and county staff did. They were aware of loopholes in the Orioles contract related to the Ripken Academy. The county attorney, commissioners and staff gave Rifkin latitude to utter his claims during his 2009 testimony under oath, positioning the Cal Ripken Academy as a sure thing. It wasn’t a sure thing, and the commission should have asked him to put his claims in the contract or not make them at all.
The County Charter says the spoken word matters in Sarasota County. If the Orioles’ attorney actually meant what he said, then in writing, the Orioles and Ripken must immediately disclose their progress with fund raising and provide a timeline to complete the Ripken Youth Academy. Our county commissioners should insist on it. If they don’t follow through, our commission and county attorney should enforce Sect. 2.5 of the County Charter, and seek recourse for Rifkin’s testimony under oath.
This question remains for the County Commission: Does signing the “truth card” require accountability from those whose testimony may not be factual, or is testifying truthfully under oath optional in your chambers?
Cathy Antunes and Pat Rounds are board members of Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government