by Mary Rupert
Candidates running for public office generally agreed at a forum on Tuesday night that the local government should seek to collect payments owed by the T-Bones’ baseball team owners.
No one running for Board of Public Utilities and Unified Government positions at the candidates’ forum on Tuesday night, Oct. 16, supported writing off the T-Bones debt to the BPU and UG. The UG previously had bailed out the T-Bones in 2016 and 2017. On Monday, the UG changed the locks on the stadium as part of an eviction process for not paying utility and other bills.
The baseball team at Village West in Kansas City, Kansas, is in the process of changing ownership. A management proposal for a new team ownership led by Mark Brandmeyer will be considered at Thursday night’s Unified Government Commission meeting. The proposed management agreement stated that Max Fun Entertainment LLC would buy and manage the baseball team and manage the stadium. (See Tuesday’s story at http://wyandottedaily.com/category/sports/tbones-sports/)
Under the proposed management agreement, Max Fun would put $500,000 into renovations at the stadium, while it is proposed that the UG would spend at least $1 million from a restricted STAR bond account within two years on capital improvements at the stadium. The UG would get 5 percent of the proceeds from nonbaseball events, and 50 cents per ticket from games. Max Fun and the UG would split the utility costs for the first year, and Max Fun would take over all utility payments the next year. Max Fun would pay property taxes on the parking lot and common maintenance area, under the agreement.
On Monday, UG spokesman Mike Taylor said that if the debt isn’t paid off by the former owner, by the new owner or as part of the ownership transfer, the UG would seek to collect the debt from the former owner.
The amount of debt that was discussed last month by the UG was about three quarters of a million dollars, and the amount of existing debt that was mentioned on Tuesday by officials was $347,000.
BPU candidates’ views
Robert “Bob” Milan, a 28-year BPU member who is running for re-election to the 1st District, said at the Tuesday night candidate forum that he would love to get the money back that is owed to the BPU.
He said from information he received, one of the conditions of the UG’s position was it would be paid $347,000 that was owed to the BPU. The agreement was to collect the money, take the money and pay it to the BPU, he said, but he added he hasn’t seen a dime yet.
“The point is, we do want the money back,” Milan said.
The UG may have to sue on the behalf of the BPU, since the BPU doesn’t have the authority on its own to do so, he said.
Jeff Bryant, an incumbent member of the BPU, 3rd District, gave some historical perspective to the T-Bones situation.
He said under the previous UG administration, the BPU had multiple meetings with the UG mayor and staff.
“(The BPU) asked to be paid or to shut off the T-Bones, and we were told by the Unified Government that we were not allowed to do that, because that was an asset that was drawing in tax dollars to the city, and therefore it’s offsetting that loss,” Bryant said at the candidate forum.
“When the UG decided to do a deal with the T-Bones and purchase a stadium, they came to us and said, you can be part of the deal and you can be bonded out on this, but it’s going to be pennies on the dollar what they owed you,” Bryant said.
The board then said, “Why would we take less than a specific amount, when they’ve already used the electricity and the water,” Bryant said. “That’s like going to get groceries and then deciding you don’t want to pay the whole amount because you didn’t enjoy them as much.”
At a UG Commission meeting where the deal was discussed, Bryant was the only Wyandotte Countian who stood up and opposed the deal as a resident, not in his BPU role, he said. There were many others in favor of the deal, and Bryant said they were mostly from outside Wyandotte County.
He said he told them, “This was not a good deal for the residents of our city. What you’re asking all of us to do is pay for the entertainment value of people outside our city.”
Stan Frownfelter, a state legislator who is running for BPU, 3rd District, said if the team owes the money, the BPU should get the money back.
“If that was one of us out there, and we were behind $3.50, they would be shutting our electricity off,” Frownfelter said.
“I don’t think we should ever have gotten in that position, that far out,” Frownfelter said. “I don’t know what we could have done as board members,” he said, “but it should never have gotten that far to begin with.”
LaRon Thompson, a BPU candidate in the 1st District, said it’s unfair, not just for individuals in the community, but also for small businesses in the community that struggle to stay afloat because they cannot afford their utility bill to stay in business.
“It’s unfair,” he said. It also involves transparency, he said.
“No one knew this was an issue until it became an issue big enough for the BPU,” he said. If it were a residential customer who was $3.47 short, their services would have been terminated, he said.
“I will work with the Unified Government commissioners to ensure that something like that never happens again,” Thompson said.
Rose Mulvany Henry, running for BPU, at-large District 3, said she is not sure that the BPU will be in control of the answer, as the UG probably will be in control of the deal with the baseball team.
“Yes, I think it should be collected, no, I do not think it should be written off,” she said.
David Haley, a state legislator who is running for BPU, at-large District 3, said if elected he supports pushing to collect this bill.
“It will not be written off,” he said. He said he wondered if there are other customers who may not have paid their utility bills and may be carried by the BPU. The average residential customer will be disconnected if they’re late for a few weeks, he said. It doesn’t matter how long they have been a customer or what their conditions are, and also, there is a reconnect charge.
He said his question is how many times this has happened before, that some entity with connections is late paying a bill and not cut off.
Haley also called for transparency and a “top-to-bottom review” of any other possible sweetheart deals, and talked about small businesses that have been negatively affected by deals like this, and how they and small customers should be able to get the same sort of solution.
Commissioner Ann Brandau Murguia, 3rd District incumbent, said her vote on the new management agreement will depend on the details, but in general she is in favor of the idea of a new owner for the baseball operation.
“Absolutely, I’m in favor of a new owner of owning a baseball stadium in Wyandotte County,” Murguia said. “I want to continue to see the T-Bones Stadium flourish. But I’m not in agreement with the Unified Government paying the bills for failed businesses, especially when it comes at the expense of taxpayers, especially when it comes to the fact that residents are treated significantly different than large corporations. I am not in favor of footing the bill for large corporations off the backs of our residents.”
Christian Ramirez, a candidate for the UG Commission, 3rd District, said he didn’t understand how they allowed a business to rack up such a debt with the BPU.
“If you’re a private citizen and $1.60 short, your services are cut,” he said. “It’s not fair, it’s not equal representation.”
Although the UG doesn’t have much say over what the BPU does, Ramirez said as a commissioner he would ensure that every policy in the county is fair, treats everyone and levels the playing field between businesses and the people.
Commissioner Harold Johnson, incumbent in the 4th District, said it’s time to look at bringing a new team in.
“The debts that were encumbered by the former owners, we should pursue with legal action to try to obtain and recoup those funds,” he said.
The debt owed was incurred by the last ownership team, he said, and the UG should pursue legal ramifications to try to obtain the funds from the persons who racked up the debt.
Jorge Flores, a candidate for UG Commissioner, 4th District, said there should be a process, such as with home buyers, where it is determined if the person or organization has enough funds to maintain the property and make payments.
The people have been voicing their concern about it for a long time, and the debt has been allowed to grow, he noted.
“Now we’re at the point where they have no options but to finish up and close down, and it shouldn’t take an eviction to get these people out or wait so long to get a change,” he said. “If it was anyone else, if it was my house or your house, they’d be out and their utilities would be cut.”
Commissioner Angela Markley, incumbent from the 6th District, said approving a new team owner and collecting the debts are two separate items.
“We need to look at the details of that agreement and what we shouldn’t do is impute the problems with the former owner onto this new potential owner,” Markley said. “So if it’s a good deal and it looks like a good agreement, and if it’s the right thing to do for this county so we can continue to have baseball here, and the income that baseball generates, not just at the stadium, but at businesses, then I think it would be more than ideal. That’s separate from us pursuing legal action against the former owner, who owes money to this government.”
She added she will be reading the details of the agreement before the meeting, and it’s important that it doesn’t leave the UG in the same position as the old agreement did, and it puts the taxpayers in the right position. If necessary, she supported legal action against the old owners for the payments that are owed.
Commissioner Melissa Bynum, incumbent from the 1st District at large, agreed with Commissioner Markley and said they couldn’t prejudge or predecide an agenda item coming in front of them on Thursday, and they need to read over the details of the agreement that came out on Tuesday.
“If it’s a good deal for the community and a good deal for Wyandotte County, we can support that,” she said. “We must pursue the legal remedies we have at hand for the debts that are owed by the former owner should we in fact vote on Thursday to allow a new ownership for the T-Bones team.”
More issues were discussed at the candidate forums, which will be shown on the KCKCC cable television station and on YouTube at a future date. The candidate forum on Tuesday night was held at Kansas City Kansas Community College and was sponsored by Business West and neighborhood organizations.
The election is Tuesday, Nov. 5.
To reach Mary Rupert, editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.