RICHMOND — Questions of legality and transparency are dogging the deal Richmond officials cut with the Washington Redskins.
As reported by Watchdog.org in mid-November, the city enticed the National Football League team to move its training camp to the state capital for two weeks each summer.
Proponents of the multimillion-dollar incentive package — which gives naming rights for the yet-to-be-built football facility to Bon Secours health systems in exchange for pledges of new hires and investment by the company — estimate that the deal will net millions more for the city in tourist spending.
But some opponents allege that the city ran afoul of the Virginia Constitution on two counts.
Article VII, Section 9 states that “No franchise, lease, or right of any kind to use any such public property or any other public property or easement of any description in a manner not permitted to the general public shall be granted for a longer period than 40 years.”
Further, the constitution prescribes: “Before granting any such franchise or privilege for a term in excess of five years … the city or town shall, after due advertisement, publicly receive bids therefore.”
The city’s package runs for 60 years, and it did not put the project out for competitive bids.
Tammy Hawley, press secretary for Mayor Dwight Jones, said in a statement:
“Our legal department advises that under the proposed transaction, the city would transfer the property to the Economic Development Authority, and the EDA would lease the property for a period longer than 40 years.
The constitutional limitation applies to cities and towns, but not to counties or industrial/economic development authorities.”
That bureaucratic handoff didn’t satisfy state Delegate G. Manoli Loupassi, a former Richmond City Council president.
Loupassi told the Daily Press in Newport News that the ‘Skins deal circumvents a decision made by the council in 2008 to ensure that money from the sale of former school properties — included in the Redskins deal — made its way back to the school system.
Michael Fraizer, who chaired the mayor’s Redskins Summer Training Camp Steering Committee, said the city could have sold the old Westhampton school site, future home of the Redskins-Bon Secours complex, to the highest bidder “for a few million dollars.”
But Fraizer said the $5,000-a-year lease agreement “instead yields over $40 million of investment, expands health services, and generates new jobs and taxes at three locations in Richmond. The city will continue to own the site, protecting future interests.”
Critics have complained about the city’s closed-door negotiations with the Redskins and Bon Secours.
Richmond City Manager Byron Marshall rebutted the concerns, saying, “It is very difficult to negotiate this kind of deal in the newspapers and with the public.”
“We weren’t trying to be less than transparent. The deal itself dictated that we had to move quickly,” Marshall said.
At the conservative blog, “Bearing Drift,” Norm Leahy wrote:
“The city could, of course, alter the terms of its proposed deal to conform with the Constitution’s language and, considering the local Babbittry is four-square behind the deal, they have every incentive to see that such changes are made.”
Meantime, the state’s chief legal officer is staying on the sidelines. At least for now.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office said it could not offer a legal opinion on the Redskins deal until asked by “one of our clients.”
“A state agency, a state legislator, etc., would have to ask for our legal opinion,” spokesman Brian Gottstein said in an email. So far, no official request has been lodged.
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