Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett went to bat for Ripken Stadium and its tenant, Ripken Baseball, last week in Augusta, Ga., where city leaders have been worried Ripken Baseball's effort to secure city backing for a new stadium for the minor league baseball GreenJackets could mean financial problems.
Bennett told city officials in Augusta that Aberdeen has a great relationship with Ripken Baseball and is on a good financial track with its stadium, according to an Oct. 3 article in The Augusta Chronicle.
The 10-year-old ballpark in Aberdeen has been a money losing venture for Bennett's city, which owns the facility and leases it to Ripken Baseball, owner of the Aberdeen IronBirds Class A team.
In an attempt to assure Aberdeen residents that nothing unethical happened, Bennett talked about the situation during Monday's city council meeting.
"I would like to make it entirely clear that no city funds were used during that trip," he said at the meeting. "[Ripken] gave me no script and they had no idea what I was going to talk about."
Bennett said he talked for about 45 minutes to a group of 35 people.
"It turned out to be a very nice afternoon," he said.
Ripken Baseball is the Aberdeen stadium's sole tenant and has control over all events at the facility, in addition to the IronBirds games. Orioles Hall of Fame player Cal Ripken Jr. is Ripken Baseball's principal owner. Ripken's company also operates an extensive youth baseball complex next to the stadium on land that is leased from the city.
Bennett said Monday that the Oct. 3 one-day trip to Georgia was paid for by Ripken Baseball, which has its headquarters in Aberdeen and has owned the Augusta team since 2005.
Originally, Bennett said, "I was going down to talk to the Augusta Rotary Club about the relationship between Aberdeen and Ripken Baseball. They have a team there in Augusta and they are talking about building a stadium, and one of the things that were out in the community was that there was just a very lousy relationship between Aberdeen and Ripken Baseball."
Bennett said he also spoke with Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver for about 10 minutes and offered him any help he may need.
"I just said there was a really good relationship. The key is, in a city-private relationship, is that both parties understand what their duties and responsibilities are and that might not have been as well defined in the early days of Ripken Baseball," he said, explaining the city has put together a good memorandum of understanding since then.
"I said we have a great relationship. If we have a problem, we sit down and find out what we can do as partners and get it resolved," Bennett added.
Copenhaver did not return calls Monday.
Opponent questions trip
Patrick McGrady, who is running against Bennett for mayor in the Nov. 8 city election, said the trip seemed a poor choice by Bennett in light of the city council's plan to vote on an ethics ordinance that spells out financial disclosure and lobbying guidelines. The city council approved the new ordinance at its meeting Monday.
"My concern is, as a citizen, it looks very odd that an incumbent mayor would travel to another part of the country to advocate as a lobbyist on behalf of a business that the city does business with," McGrady said Monday afternoon. "I hope it's not true that it looks like he was acting as a lobbyist."
McGrady said if there is some special relationship between Bennett and Ripken Baseball, residents should know about it.
He also questioned Bennett's comments in Augusta that the stadium has not seriously hurt the city's finances.
"I am looking at the budgets from 2005 [on] where we pay $350,000 a year in debt," he said. "The opinion of the people of Aberdeen is it is not a good deal, it was not a good deal..."