|Mayor Bennett (left) and challenger McGrady (right)|
City Stink first told you back on October 11th about Aberdeen, MD mayor Michael Bennett's trip to Augusta, GA with Ripken Baseball officials: The Truth is a Funny Thing in Aberdeen, MD When it Comes to Publicly Financed Ballparks.
Mayor Bennett had a very different story for the audience in Augusta regarding his city's financial history with the publicly financed Ripken Stadium from what the people back home are familiar with. Bennett supposedly wanted to "dispel rumors" from a 2007 Baltimore Sun article that said the small city of Aberdeen, MD was losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on their stadium and a very lop-sided financial arrangement with Ripken Baseball made it next to impossible for the city to even break even. Plus, much of the promised real-estate development the city was hoping would occur adjacent to the ballpark never materialized. Of course City Stink got a hold of the budget reports for the city of Aberdeen and found that the city was still losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually on Ripken Stadium and still having to dip into its general fund to service the bonds.
But Bennett made it sound like everything was just hunky-dory back in The Old-Line state. But people back home knew better. It seems for years, a series of mayors, including Bennett, tried unsuccessfully to renegotiate a better deal with Ripken Baseball to stop the financial hemorrhaging for Aberdeen taxpayers. Each time, the company refused. So why did mayor Michael Bennett come down and tell an audience in Augusta a completely opposite tale and sing the praises of Ripken Baseball?
As many of you know, Ripken Baseball and Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver have been lobbying hard for a new stadium here in Augusta. But the public has been cool on the idea of committing public funds for the project. So when the news broke back in July that Cal Ripken's home town of Aberdeen was suffering with a financial burden with Ripken Stadium, it seemed to reinforce what stadium critics here have been saying all along.
So on October 3rd, Ripken Baseball brought Aberdeen mayor Michael Bennett (at company expense) to Augusta to engage in some damage control and some truth bending. I mean if the mayor of Aberdeen, MD says all of this is a bunch of baloney about them losing money on their stadium then it must be true right? And of course Augusta reporters won't ask any questions or dig deeper, right?
When the folks back up in Maryland caught wind of mayor Bennett's trip to Augusta, there were naturally a lot of questions. Such as why was mayor Bennett down in Georgia on a lobbying junket for a company his city has a financial relationship with? And, why did the mayor neglect to give the crowd in Augusta the whole story?
Patrick McGrady, who is challenging Bennett in the upcoming Nov 8th election for mayor, filed an ethics complaint over the trip.
Well on Nov 1st, just a week before the election, the Aberdeen, MD Ethics Panel (many of whom were appointed by mayor Bennett) rendered a decision on the ethics complaint against Bennett, and it found the mayor IN VIOLATION of the city's ethics ordinance: Baltimore Sun: Ethics Panel Admonishes Mayor Bennett.
You can view the official decision by the ethics panel below:
Even though the panel did not believe the mayor "willfully" violated the ethics ordinance, they did believe the potential for a conflict of interest did exist and that mayor Bennett should have disclosed this to the city council BEFORE making the trip. He notified the council more than a week AFTER when it had already hit the blogs and newspapers. The panel also concluded that the mayor, acting in an official capacity, was in effect lobbying on behalf of a private company that could result in that company receiving a financial benefit (Ripken Baseball is trying to get Augusta to build them a stadium here). The panel did not consider the plane ticket a "gift", nor has it been proven that mayor Bennett received some other direct financial benefit from Ripken Baseball for making the trip, but with it being election season, there are certainly many people asking questions about mayor Bennett's motives for coming to Augusta to lobby on Ripken Baseball's behalf and twist the facts about the financial burden of the stadium. Though there is no penalty for the ethics violation, the panel did "admonish" mayor Bennett for a "series of imprudent actions."
How will this impact the election up there? Well we will find out after next Tuesday if this trip to Augusta cost Michael Bennett his job as mayor. The timing of this certainly could not be worse for Bennett. However things turn out in the election, many stadium critics in Augusta feel vindicated by this decision from the ethics panel in Maryland. The truth about the financial burdens of these stadiums are well documented, and for mayor Bennett and Ripken Baseball officials to come to Augusta and say that stadium critics here were spreading "rumors and misinformation" was not only disingenuous, but offensive. If they want to point the finger at who is spreading "rumors and misinformation" about the stadium, they may want to try finding a mirror.
Other media sources covering the ethics violation story:
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