Studer Shakedown

Why wasn’t the $2.25 million ever included in the CMP financials?

The daily newspaper reports today on a dispute between the CMPA attorney Ed Fleming (and in the background, CMPA executive director Ed Spears) and the Studers over whether the couple owes an additional $2,050,000 for the maritime park or is it one pledge of $2.25 million with the Studers earmarking in January 2011 a portion specifically for the enhancements at the stadium.

No one on the CMPA board says it’s two pledges. The mayor’s office doesn’t say it was two pledges. The Studers don’t say it was two pledges.

Until CMPA director Ed Spears brought the issue up on Tuesday, July 19, no one thought there was an issue.

Did Spears (and Fleming?) try to shakedown the Studers for money on the eve of the CMPA board was to vote on the use agreement for the stadium?

Spears was aware that UWF board had voted in late 2010 to return the $2.25 million donation for the maritime museum to the Studers. The Studers were committed to using it for the stadium and public improvements at the park. How it would be spent at the park was at their discretion.

When the Studers made the announcement of $2.05 million for stadium enhancements on Jan. 31, 2011, Spears had an obligation to get clarity. At the very least, he should have told the board they didn’t need any extra money because they had $2.25 million coming in since the maritime park wasn’t being built.

Spears didn’t do it. He didn’t mention it in the management letter, dated Feb. 9, 2011, that was included in the audited financial statements for the FY 2010.

In fact, Spears wrote in that report that no additional funds would be needed to enhance the stadium to accommodate Double A baseball. According to Spears, the CMPA would be able to make the changes with contingencies and savings (see page 8-9 of the audited financials).

Strangely, there is no mention in the financials of the $2.25 million as a potential receivable to the CMPA.

So why did the $2.25 million suddenly come up as a separate pledge on the night of July 19? Because that was the day Spears discovered that he made a $2.3 million error in the budget to complete the park.

Spears had told the mayor’s office and all the board members that there was a $1.7 million shortfall in the project. The mayor’s office had been working on recommendations to cover that.

Spears played a $2.25 million gamble and, with the help of Fleming, he could shakedown the Studers for more money and save his job. It distracted everyone from the question: how could Spears have made such a colossal error in the park finances? Where has the money gone? Remember in Feb. 2011 Spears said that contingencies and savings would cover the costs.

The IN has been working on this since we become aware of the July 19 meeting. We began looking at the soft costs in early June. Through interviews and public record requests, we’ve pieced together what we believed happened and why. Over the next couple days, we will share the information on this blog.

There was never two pledges.