The City of Aberdeen is proposing an initial budget of $150,000 to begin its defense of a breach of contract lawsuit filed by Cal Ripken Jr. and his baseball management company against the city.
The Aberdeen City Council, at its meeting Monday night, voted 3-1 to introduce an amendment to its FY2019 budget to transfer $150,000 from its general fund into the stadium fund.
“In concert with our movement into the Ripken issue, the stadium issue, this is a projection [City Finance Director Obiripo] Jack and I discussed … is earmarked for legal fees,” Aberdeen City Manager Randy Robertson said.
In the suit, filed Oct. 10 in Harford County Circuit Court, Tufton Professional Baseball LLC, owned by Aberdeen native Ripken and his family, asks Aberdeen to live up to the terms of an agreement made 20 years ago as to how the stadium would be managed.
For the better part of a year, the city government and Tufton have been embroiled in negotiations over who would manage non-baseball events at the stadium.
“I can’t get into my views because the mayor, council, city manager and our lawyers have told us not to speak on it, but I voted ‘no’ because I feel it’s money we won’t get a return on for the taxpayers,” Lindecamp, who has been a vocal opponent of the city’s handling of the stadium issue, said at the council meeting.
The council will hold a public hearing on the budget amendment at its next meeting, Nov. 26.
“This is the first of probably others,” Robertson said about the budget transfer. “We thought we’d start in piecemeal bits and see where we are in a few months.”
Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said the price tag could be higher.
“It’s possible this does not cover all the legal expenses as a result of pending litigation and we will have to revisit that at a future date,” McGrady said. “We think it is appropriate to fund this now so that we have the money we need for the decisions we need to make going forward.”
He said the city will continue to use its city attorney, Fred Sussman, as the lawsuit moves forward.
“He has been with the city for five years and has been instrumental in our discussions and negotiations with Tufton Professional Baseball,” McGrady said. “Fred will continue to be integral to any legal strategy the city decides to pursue.”
Tufton claims in the suit that once the city recoups its initial investment of $3 million, plus debt service on the stadium, management of non-baseball events will revert to Tufton, except for 15 days each year allocated to the city, according to an agreement the city and Tufton signed in late 2000 as the stadium project was getting underway.
Until that threshold was met, the city had authority to manage non-baseball events except for 15 days allocated annually to Tufton, though it deferred that authority to Tufton, which had been managing most non-baseball events until nearly a year ago.
In 2017, Aberdeen declined to renew a license agreement with Tufton for city events after Tufton refused to renegotiate the Concession Agreement, the lawsuit claims.
Tufton also claims the city has failed to complete major capital projects at the stadium that is beginning to jeopardize the safety of players on the Aberdeen IronBirds minor league baseball team, which plays at the stadium, and guests.