Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett's recent trip to Georgia to advocate on behalf of the Ripken organization as it tries to secure public financing of a stadium for a minor league ballclub in Augusta is one of the most ill-advised moves in his time in office.
It wasn't a bad idea because the stadium in Aberdeen turned out to be a boondoggle. Quite the contrary, Ripken Stadium by itself has been a tremendous asset to the Aberdeen community and Harford County as a whole. In addition, the youth baseball complex and the Cal Ripken World Series have only increased the prestige of the city and the county and made them burgeoning baseball destinations for dedicated fans of the national pastime.
What was a bad idea was Mayor Bennett down-playing the financial burden the stadium has been for the Aberdeen municipal government. It's become clear in recent years that when Aberdeen, Harford County and the State of Maryland contributed financially to the construction of Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen made a very weak deal even as the other two governments were more fiscally restrained in their support of the project. Bennett can't be blamed for the deal. Indeed, when he first took office he made an effort to renegotiate the deal, only to find that the savvy business people in the Ripken organization weren't willing to increase their costs by making a new deal that put them in a weaker position.
To his credit, Bennett punted. He proposed and got approved legislation that dissolved the powerless municipal stadium board and also refinanced the city's debt on the stadium. While these moves both made the best of a bad situation, it's worth noting that had it not been for a horribly weak economy and record-low interest rates, the refinancing of the city's debt wouldn't have been a money-saving option.
Given the reality that Bennett and his predecessors had for so long lamented the financial arrangement the city had made on Ripken Stadium, it seems a bit disingenuous for him to have told folks in Georgia the deal the city made to finance the stadium hadn't been a problem for municipal finances.
While it is true that complaints on the part of city officials about the arrangement were a bit overblown, on the whole it's hard to dispute the city's arrangement with Ripken Stadium — wherein its revenue from the facility is very limited, but its financial obligations are substantial — was a bad one.
Mayor Bennett, while not happy with the city's financial arrangement with the stadium, has done what he can to deal with the hand he was dealt and hasn't, unlike his predecessor, repeatedly predicted financial ruin for the city because of the deal.
It would have been difficult for the mayor to have visited Georgia and tell civic leaders to be wary when dealing with the Ripken organization, as he had traveled there courtesy of the Ripkens. Had the mayor spoken only of the general goodwill the stadium has brought to Aberdeen, he would have been spot on. It was inevitable, however, that someone in Georgia would have asked about finances and he should have foreseen this and politely declined the invitation to participate in the trip.
Now, with a mayoral election a few weeks away, Bennett is in the unenviable position of having to answer to the voters in Aberdeen for his performance in Georgia, and on that account it looks like he's got some explaining to do.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun