The more I stew over the City's admitted decision to withhold information on the structural condition of War Memorial Stadium in advance of the October referendum, the more enraged I become... the discovery of this information mirrors a larger national debate, but here in Greensboro it's seen as business as usual.
The Sutton-Kennerly report (pdf file) was requested by the City Manager's office to assertain the current condition of a city owned facility that was at the center of a two-year-long raging war of words, money and effort involving two groups of very entrenched combatants: "naysayers" and everyone else. This report, if it had been made public, would cetainly have had a direct influence on a vote of the citizens.
It was clear to me that City staff was taking sides on the issue when the manager's office released a document entitled "Alternate Uses of War Memorial Stadium" (pdf file) back in October 2002. This report claimed that if War Memorial Stadium were to be relieved of hosting minor league baseball, its new role as an amatuer baseball venue would "save" the taxpayers $2.5M. The report stated that this "savings" would be realized because the City would "avoid the future cost of a $2.5 million dollar tournament level stadium and its associated $168,000 personnel and operating expense".
Problem is, the Parks and Recreation Department's Master Plan does not call for such a facility so no such "savings" was ever to be realized by the taxpayers. The "Alternative Useage" report was in fact an "editorial opinion" which is the very term that Assistant City Manager Mitch Johnson used to explain his decision to bury the 2003 structural assessment of WMS. The fact is that P&R had no part in developing the "Alternative Uses" report... it was generated soley by the City Manager's office without input from the Parks & Recreation Department. That report was a fabrication based upon an assumption that had no basis in fact nor planning but, as expected, this "savings" became a major selling point for the pro-new-stadium forces.
Now we find that during the height of the baseball wars, the City was in possesion of a here-to-for hidden weapon of mass destruction that was aimed directly at War Memorial Stadium... the Sutton-Kennerly report.
What effect would language found in that scathing assessment have had on the stadium referendum's outcome? ... we can only speculate. But if I were a voter who was weighing the pros and cons of the debate, statements such as "... The deterioration of the stadium is widespread" ... and ... "It appears that War Memorial Stadium may not have been adequately maintained during the life of the facility" ... and "... the factor of safety of the structure in its present condition may be significantly below building code requirements" might have given me pause.
We had the right to be fully informed, but (so far, scroll down) Mayor Holliday, Councilwoman Gatton and Manager Mitch Johnson have stated that they thought it was best to keep the report to themselves.
The two reports cited above, if presented properly and on a timely basis, would have certainly changed the scope of the debate over WMS's future, and by extention... the question of whether or not we need a new stadium... in some fundamental ways:
- Statements from elected officials and pro-stadium forces like "no one is talking about tearing it down" would have been called into question because demolition is exactly what the report suggests.
- Since the report would have made it clear that it will take millions to rehab or re-construct the stadium, with or without minor league baseball, voters could have decided that we might as well fix it to the standards required to keep the Bats at the facility in order to re-coup the investment through leasing arrangements.
- Freeing up WMS for amatuer baseball did not "save" the taxpayers money at all, in fact, the opposite is true.
- It would have been made clear to the voters that our City Council has continuously neglected an important National Registry property that is Greensboro's only memorial to our World War I dead. In an election year, that information would be damning... I would have wielded the issue like a sword in my bid to unseat the incumbents.
Charges of the withholding and, perhaps, fabrication of crucial information is causing great national concern right now in the debate over our involvement in Iraq: In Greensboro, the outcome of a very contentious issue was apparently manipulated by our government in a similar manner. We have discovered our "weapon of mass destruction". President Bush would be envious, but here in Greensboro everyone just yawns and says... "whatever".