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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Fired CEO Calls White Sox Park a Boondoggle

CHICAGO (CN) - Former Gov. James Thompson and Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf got the CEO of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority fired for objecting to a one-sided deal that let Reinsdorf milk the publicly funded White Sox ballpark as a "cash cow puppet," the former CEO claims in court.

Perri L. Irmer sued Reinsdorf and Thompson in Federal Court.

Reinsdorf also owns the Chicago Bulls.

Irmer was CEO of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (ISFA) and Thompson was chairman of the board.

Irmer says in the complaint that "ISFA is the public entity that was created to develop and operate the baseball stadium known as U.S. Cellular Field, the home of the Chicago White Sox. Since 1991, when Cellular Field opened, the Chicago White Sox have enjoyed the most lucrative and one-sided deal (which defendants Reinsdorf and Thompson had negotiated while Thompson was still the governor) ever granted by a state to a privately owned professional sports team. [Parentheses in complaint.]

"From late 2004 forward, Perri Irmer worked tirelessly to try and improve ISFA's financial position. She continually sought to increase ISFA's revenues by promoting the use of the stadium for special events and concerts, and by seeking to develop state-owned real estate assets to generate rent payments, which are the only two areas of revenue at the stadium that were not pledged to Reinsdorf and the White Sox under their sweetheart lease. However, Reinsdorf and his political influence stymied all such efforts on behalf of the state and its taxpayers.

"Perri Irmer also sought to increase public access to the 'people's ballpark,' as she liked to call Cellular Field. She sought to increase public events on nongame days and she sought to fill some of the unsold seats at the ballpark with persons who might not otherwise be able to attend a ballgame, especially African-American and Hispanic youth. She also worked to increase minority and women contracting with considerable success."

But in 2010, the ISFA Board agreed to give the White Sox "a rent-free deal enabling the team to obtain all of the revenue from the operations of Bacardi at the Park, which is the new restaurant that opened on publicly owned land on 35th Street, across the street from Cellular Field. The terms of this deal should have outraged every citizen and taxpayer in Illinois," Irmer says in the complaint.

The Chicago Tribune reported that ISFA paid $6.9 million to build the restaurant, but "agreed with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf that the agency should not share in any restaurant profits."

"'We said to Jerry, 'Jerry can we have part of the profits?' and he said no,' former Gov. Jim Thompson, who was the agency's board chairman when the deal was made, said in an interview. 'We said, OK,'" the complaint states, quoting the Tribune.

Then in 2011, the White Sox asked taxpayers to pay $10.5 million for improvements to Cellular Field - Irmer says she rejected $7 million of the request.

"Perri Irmer saw clearly what should have been obvious to anyone familiar with ISFA," the complaint states. "Under former Governor Thompson's leadership, the ISFA Board had become ineffective to protect taxpayer interests, and was acting as nothing more than a cash cow puppet for Jerry Reinsdorf.

"Irmer thus initiated an effort to try and bring reform to ISFA. Speaking out as a highly informed citizen, she sought intervention from the Governor of Illinois, Patrick Quinn, and the new Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, among other members of the Illinois political community who would be in a position to impose reform upon ISFA.

"But Jerry Reinsdorf and Jim Thompson were determined to stop her. Perri Irmer was scheduled to meet with Mayor Emanuel in the week of April 25, 2011. That meeting never occurred. On Monday, April 25, 2011, former Governor Thompson arranged for Perri Irmer to be locked out off her office, and at Reinsdorf's behest he orchestrated a special meeting of the Board of Directors to have her fired. Thompson gave Ms. Irmer the choice of resigning or waiting to be fired, and he added that if she refused to resign, and they 'had to' fire her, that her reputation would be ruined."

The ISFA Board fired her, to "silence Perri Irmer and to stifle her efforts to protect Illinois taxpayers from Reinsdorf's greed," Irmer says in the complaint.

"Shortly after her termination, the White Sox received approval for the $7 million in expenditures that Perri Irmer had sought to cut from the budget, the outrageous Bacardi at the Park deal was implemented, and it was soon accompanied by another egregious free-rent deal on an adjoining retail team gear store that was also built on taxpayer-owned property," the complaint states.

In addition, Irmer claims, the ISFA "reduced or eliminated the community partnerships and ticket donation programs that Perri Irmer had instituted on behalf of Illinois citizens, which had provided thousands of underprivileged youths with an opportunity to enjoy White Sox baseball in 'the people's ballpark.'"

Irmer seeks punitive damages for violation of the First Amendment, conspiracy and tortious interference.

She is represented by Carmen Caruso.

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