Reporters often suspect that government officials attempt to prevent the whole story from getting out.  Occasionally, we get proof.
 
I have a story in today’s paper about Downforce Racing, the group organizing this year’s Baltimore Grand Prix, missing benchmarks set by its contract with the city. The group has also twice delayed selling tickets for the Labor Day racing festival. Some of the information for the story came from an email that was apparently sent to me by mistake.
 
I contacted the Maryland Stadium Authority, a quasi-public state agency, to see if the group had finalized its contract.  A spokeswoman informed me that the executive director said they had.  I then asked for a copy. That’s when things got interesting.
 
A Stadium Authority attorney emailed the spokeswoman about my request and, apparently unwittingly, sent the email to me as well.  The attorney told the spokeswoman that the contract had in fact not been finalized. There had been a March 15 deadline. She wrote that the situation “could present some PR problems” for Downforce and instructed her to “refrain from discussing this with the Sun.”
 
“At this point, I would give the Sun no information until we find out if [Downforce Racing] has the necessary signatures,” Cynthia M. Hahn, an assistant attorney general, said in an email to the stadium authority’s spokeswoman.

I sent a follow-up email asking the Stadium Authority and the attorney why it would be concerned about the public perception of Downforce Racing and why they would avoid discussing this with the Sun. They did not respond.

Take a look at the string of emails below:

From: Scharper, Julie
Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2012 4:15 PM
To: 'Hahn, Cynthia'; Hardesty, Jan
Cc: Frenz, Michael J.
Subject: RE: Agreement with Downforce Racing
 
Hello all,
 
I assume that you did not mean to include me on this email.  But, now that you have, the content of the email will be mentioned in the story we will be running in tomorrow’s paper about the state of the contract with Downforce.
 
Could you please explain why you felt it was the responsibility of the MSA and the AG’s office to protect Downforce from “some PR problems”?  We would also like to know why Ms. Hahn advised Ms. Hardesty to avoid discussing the contract with the Sun.
 
Thank you.
 
Julie Scharper

Julie Scharper
City Hall reporter
The Baltimore Sun
o. 410.332.6602
c. 410.206.6303
julie.scharper@baltsun.com
twitter.com/juliemore

==

From: Hahn, Cynthia [mailto:chahn@oag.state.md.us]
Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 7:01 PM
To: Hardesty, Jan; Scharper, Julie
Cc: Frenz, Michael J.
Subject: RE: Agreement with Downforce Racing
 
HI, Jan,
Downforce RAcing has never returned a fully executed counterpart of the contrac to MSA, unless MIke has received it over the last 48 hours.  Last I heard, Mike had advised Reck that we needed a properly executed counterpart, and Reck said he would provide it.  That was last week, before I left on vacation.  I have received nothing since.
 
MSA's  receipt of the signed copy is critical for a few reasons.  First and most obviously, until we receive their signed counterpart, their is not contract.  That leads to the second part that is relevant for PIA disclosure purposes:  If there is no final contract, there is nothing to produce.  Draft and partially executed versions of contracts are exempt from disclosure.   Mike's signed copy is not subject to disclosure, until DFR signs off on teh agreement--and signs off properly in a manner that is legally binding.
 
Bottom line:  MSA has nothing to disclose to the Sun yet.  Because this could present some PR problems for DFR, I will contact their attorney.  You should refrain from discussing this with the Sun until Reck has a chance to get MIke his properly signed counterpart.
 
If Mike has it, then MSA's counterparty signed by Mike can be released.  I do have the pdf of it that Pam sent over to me.  However, the original of the pdf is likely retained by Mike and Pam.
 
I will copy you, Mike and Pam on my communication to Reck's attorney.  At this point, I would give the Sun no information until we find out if Reck has the necessary signatures.
Thanks,
Cynthia

==

From: Hardesty, Jan [Jan@mdstad.com]
Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 4:32 PM
To: Scharper, Julie
Cc: Frenz, Michael J.; Hahn, Cynthia
Subject: RE: Agreement with Downforce Racing
Julie –
 
Thanks for the official ask.  I’ve just checked with Mike, and the contract with Downforce Racing, signed March 15, 2012, is with our counsel, Cynthia Hahn.  Cynthia is in the Attorney General’s Office and she is on vacation right now.
 
I will attempt to get you a copy some other way, but we may have to wait until Cynthia gets back.
 
Will keep you apprised and make every effort to get to you soonest.
 
Best,
Jan

==

From: Scharper, Julie [mailto:juscharper@baltsun.com]
Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2012 3:10 PM
To: Hardesty, Jan
Subject: Agreement with Downforce Racing
 
Hi Jan,
 
Nice to chat with you as usual.  Here is a MPIA letter for the agreement with Downforce racing, as per your request.
 
Best,
Julie
 
Julie Scharper
The Baltimore Sun
P.O. Box 1377
Baltimore, MD 21278-0001
 
Dear Ms. Hardesty:
 
I am writing to request certain documents under the Maryland Public Information Act.
 
Specifically, I request access to, and copies of, the following:
 
The agreement between Downforce Racing and the Maryland Stadium Authority for the 2012 Baltimore Grand Prix. 
 
I am not seeking any information that is exempt from disclosure under the Public Information Act. Please let me know which exceptions are applicable to any information withheld or redacted.
 
If possible, I would like to obtain these records in electronic format. If that is not possible, I would like to select which portions of the records to retain after inspection.
 
If you have questions or need more information, please contact me by telephone or email.
 
I look forward to hearing from you promptly, as specified in the law.
 
Sincerely,
 
Julie Scharper

Julie Scharper
City Hall reporter
The Baltimore Sun
o. 410.332.6602
c. 410.206.6303
julie.scharper@baltsun.com
twitter.com/juliemore