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Hartford Won't Release Signed Stadium Documents Until Negotiations Are Complete

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Heather Brandon
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WNPR
Hartford City Hall.
In a "preliminary official statement," the city said it has already entered into at least two agreements.

The city of Hartford has executed agreements with the developer of a baseball stadium and the owner of the minor league New Britain Rock Cats, according to bond documents provided to investors.

But you can’t see them -- not yet, anyway.

Last week, we asked the city to see any executed agreements between it and either the developer, DoNo Hartford LLC, or the team owner, Connecticut Double Play LLC.  The city denied that request, saying it was holding the documents "in escrow until all negotiations are resolved."  Typically, executed contract documents are not exempt from disclosure.  (A clarification: We formally asked to inspect the documents with the developer; we only inquired as to the status of the agreements with the team's owners.  We got no response on the latter.)

Asked for clarification, the city lawyers said this:

Holding documents in escrow means that they are not final and the agreement they embody are not in operation until the escrow is released. Therefore, these are similar to a draft, in that they may not be released if the escrow conditions are not met.

But in what’s called a “preliminary official statement” sent out to potential bond buyers who will help fund the $59.8 million the city needs to move forward, the city said it has already entered into at least two agreements. We found the document online at munios.com:

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Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
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WNPR
Mitchell Pearlman in a WNPR file photo.

"I think the city is saying to you that it is willing to disclose these executed agreements to some people but not to others."<br><em>Mitchell Pearlman</em>

I ran this by Mitchell Pearlman. He was the executive director and general counsel of the state's Freedom of Information Commission for 30 years.

First, I asked whether signed contract documents between the city and another party are public documents subject to disclosure.

"Generally, the answer is yes," Pearlman said.

Second, I asked if there is an escrow exemption.

"No," Pearlman said, adding it appears as though the city is willing to disclose the contracts with prospective bond buyers. Just not with the press.

"I think the city is saying to you that it is willing to disclose these executed agreements to some people but not to others," Pearlman said. "And that, of course, is totally unacceptable in terms of the policy behind the Freedom of Information Act."

Lastly, I asked whether there was an argument the city could make for not releasing the documents.

"Well, they're making an argument," Pearlman said. "Anybody can make an argument. How fallacious it is is the question. And it sounds fallacious to me."

In other stadium esoterica news, this is the week the Hartford Stadium Authority is going to the open market to borrow nearly $60 million to build a minor league baseball stadium.  

Questions bond buyers may be asking: What happens if we don't get paid?

Here's the answer they'll get, again from that statement offered to bond buyers:

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That is, the city has an "unconditional and absolute" obligation to make payments -- provided that the city council actually approves the payment.

As for Ken Krayeske’s complaint to the Freedom of Information Commission that the council meeting that established the authority – in a blizzard, with city hall closed, a parking ban, and police urging folks off the streets -- the city is not impressed. 

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We reached out to City Hall for comment. It's closed due to the snow.

Update: Luke Bronin, a candidate for Hartford mayor, criticized Segarra on Tuesday for refusing to make public executed agreements related to the DoNo development.

"Residents of Hartford have a right to know what’s in these final agreements," Bronin said in a statement, "and there is no good reason for refusing to disclose these documents to the public. This isn’t a question of what the law requires, it’s a question of what the residents of Hartford deserve. The people of Hartford deserve open, transparent, responsive government, and I urge Mayor Segarra to reverse his decision to withhold these documents and make them available to the public today."

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