Leaked internal emails about the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission’s successful effort to hand off control of the taxpayer-owned stadium to the University of Southern California (USC) outline questionable efforts to dodge California’s open-meeting law.
The 94 emails were the subject of a court fight between the commission and more than two dozen people—including Governor Jerry Brown, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and a Los Angeles Times reporter—that ended Monday when Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis A. Lavin denied the commission an emergency order for their return.
The Times said it received the documents last month from an anonymous source, who claimed they revealed multiple violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act. The emails discuss advanced vote counting of commissioners, exclusion of state officials from deliberations with USC and various attempts to maintain secrecy during seven months of closed-door negotiations.
The commission inked its deal with USC in May 2012, with City Councilman (and ex-L.A. Police Chief) Bernard C. Parks the sole dissenter in an 8-1 vote. Two months later the Times and CaliforniansAware filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles County Superior Court to abrogate the deal, claiming the lease violated state law because it was agreed to in secret.
The extent of that secrecy was amplified three months ago, during the second day of deposition-taking in the lawsuit, when stadium interim Manager John Sandbrook testified about a confidentiality pact between the commission and the university to keep all the discussions quiet. The agreement was signed by Sandbrook and three of the commissioners.
Governor Brown, the county Board of Supervisors and the city Board of Recreation and Parks each appoints three Coliseum commissioners.
The Times has written 100 stories about the commission over the last two plus years, including ethics probes, financial scandals, dubious behavior by officials, a lack of transparency and a fugitive suspect fleeing to Brazil. Under fire, the commission voted to turn over control of the stadium to USC and made a deal that critics say is highly favorable to the school.
The 98-year agreement gives USC control of the money-losing stadium and the nearby Sports Arena, but gets very little revenue in return for the public should the university succeed in straightening out its finances and improving its business model. The school has pledged $70 million to renovate the Coliseum and would make $1 million-a-year rent payments to the state.
Although the commission’s mad scramble to reclaim the 94 emails, before they could be made public, might have been motivated by a desire to shield its behind-the-scenes moves, there could have been reasons of a more personal nature.
The expletive-laden emails give a good account of the kind of rough-and-tumble politics rarely seen by the public. For example, then-commission President David Israel, a Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appointee who is now chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, makes reference to fellow Commissioner William Chadwick’s “massive ego” and calls Commissioner Parks “Col. Klink,” after the hapless Nazi in the television show “Hogan’s Heroes.”
At one point, County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky gives Sandbrook some advice on how to handle criticism coming his way from the Times. “As they say in my neighborhood: fuckem!”