Five months ago, while his White Sox were in full June swoon, Jerry Reinsdorf was celebrating victory. Unreported and unnoticed, with the silent efficiency of a mob hit, the lawsuit against the White Sox chairman brought by an ex-government employee was weighted down and left for dead in a river of motions, minutes, and memorandums.
In April 2013, Perri Irmer filed an impassioned claim with a local district court arguing that her individual rights had been violated in a wrongful firing, but the case was a larger indictment on behalf of taxpayers against the enigmatic Reinsdorf, his goose, and his golden egg.
The goose is the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority. In her lawsuit, former ISFA CEO Irmer affirmed what those of us who have been paying attention have long suspected: that the ISFA—the government agency created by the state of Illinois allegedly to promote jobs and economic development through investment in sports stadiums—is in practice an entity that mobilizes public funds in the interest of Reinsdorf and his White Sox ownership partners.
Reinsdorf’s golden egg is US Cellular Field. The White Sox home ballpark was built, renovated, and is maintained with public money. Taxes pay for upwards of fifty million in bond debt and stadium upkeep annually while the White Sox pay one or two million dollars in “rent” or “ticket fees,” or whatever they happen to be calling the pittance in any given year.
Irmer was in charge of ISFA operations from 2004 to 2011. Early in her tenure she recognized that the White Sox stadium agreement with the ISFA and state of Illinois was “abusive to taxpayers.” And so Irmer sought to reduce costs of ballpark management, earn more revenue for the state at US Cellular Field from events such as concerts, develop public land around the park, and make White Sox games more accessible to members of surrounding south side communities.
According to Irmer, Reinsdorf didn’t like her proposals because they cut into his bottom line. US Cellular as a music venue would compete with the United Center, which is owned by Reinsdorf (and incidentally, way undertaxed). More businesses near the ballpark would mean less revenue for White Sox ownership inside the facility. And Reinsdorf opposed lower-class people of color at US Cellular Field because they undermined the White Sox “brand.”
Irmer also fought against additional public funds being diverted to Reinsdorf and the White Sox. She opposed the Bacardi at the Park agreement in 2010, in which Reinsdorf received both state money to build a restaurant outside of US Cellular Field and all the revenues generated from the bibulous White Sox fans therein. And when Reinsdorf asked for $7 to $10 million additional tax dollars for renovations in 2011, Irmer balked again. Despite Irmer’s protests however, Reinsdorf got his (extra) millions in both cases.
By Irmer’s account, insiders knew that she wanted to make people in power aware of the ISFA’s wastefulness to taxpayers and Reinsdorf’s undue influence over ISFA decision makers. But few were willing to listen. In late-2010 and early-2011 Irmer attempted to meet with Governor Pat Quinn but was rebuffed by his staff. She had a meeting scheduled with Mayor Rahm Emanuel on April 28, 2011. However, four days before the meeting date, Irmer arrived at work to find herself locked out of her office. She was terminated by the ISFA Board two days after that.
None of these facts or events were disputed in the judge’s opinion on the case. Instead, Irmer’s lawsuit was thrown out because the judge ruled she had not adequately argued that her civil rights had been violated. Unfortunately, collusion is hard to prove, having clout is not illegal, and by law Jerry Reinsdorf has the right to act in his own business interests.
Meanwhile, no one is acting in the public’s interest as the major stakeholders in the ISFA and US Cellular Field, and that is seriously troubling.