Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Weasels in the arena deal

Did you hear about the “secret deal” between the city of Sacramento and the Kings?

It’s supposedly a backroom, off-the-books, under-the-radar, “sweetener” that was cooked up secretly between city officials and Kings owners. It would secretly provide hidden subsidies from the city to the Kings for the purpose of secretly making the Kings owners financially whole for “overpaying” to buy one of the worst franchises in the NBA.

Oh, and it’s a secret. At least until a lawyer suing the city began trying to bring to light his secret source of this secret information: City Councilman Kevin McCarty. Yes, the same McCarty who is running for the state Assembly; the same McCarty who has been a consistent “no” vote against using a large subsidy to help build a downtown arena.

It’s unusual in the extreme because you don’t often see a city councilman as the potential star witness for parties suing the city he represents. Whether he wants to be in this spot or not (we don’t know because he ain’t talking) Councilman McCarty is potentially undermining the legal position of his own city.

In a few days, a Sacramento Superior Court Judge could rule that McCarty can be deposed by Patrick Soluri – a lawyer suing the city for allegedly concealing details in a proposed $448 million downtown arena deal.

This whole thing is a sideshow of weasels doing weasely things, but there could be some public value to this.

It would be beautiful if McCarty would be compelled to deposed because it would force him go on the record – something he is loath to do unless he calculates it can help his Assembly bid.

For a long time, McCarty has had a clear path to standing up and being the most legitimate voice against the city’s efforts to finance the $448 million arena with a $258 million subsidy. The anti-arena side has desperately needed someone with McCarty’s standing as an elected official to bolster the debate over the wisdom of the arena subsidy.

Right now, the pro-arena side can easily disregard the anti-arena contingent as a bunch of old folks who were nowhere until they got hundreds of thousands of dollars in support from outside donors seeking to mess with the Kings owners and the city.

But besides his “no” votes on the arena, many opportunities afforded McCarty to be a stand-up guy have been followed by a big “no comment.”

Why? Because a stand-up person taking on the arena subsidy would have to oppose business, labor, a majority of the City Council, the Sacramento-based leader of the state Senate and many in the public. It would take real guts and principle to oppose these forces out in the open. So you can count McCarty out.

Instead, we get Soluri filing a court document to compel McCarty to be deposed. A story Thursday by The Bee’s Tony Bizjak stated: “(Soluri’s) lawsuit is based in part on phone conversations McCarty had last year with Soluri and Isaac Gonzalez, a Sacramento resident who opposes the city arena subsidy.”

Bizjak reported further: “In a separate filing with the court, Soluri said McCarty called him last year and told him ‘that hidden in the term sheet (agreement between the city and Kings) was a secret subsidy intended to reimburse the Kings investors for the fact that they were “overpaying” for the franchise.’ ”

According to Bizjak’s story, Soluri maintains that McCarty instructed him to obtain the emails of Jim Rinehart, Sacramento’s development director. They would supposedly show that the city undervalued city land being given to the Kings as part of the deal.

I asked John Shirey, Sacramento’s city manager, if there was anything to this secret deal. “No,” he said. Vice Mayor Angelique Ashby? “No,” she said.

Councilman Darrell Fong has also consistently voted against the arena subsidy, so surely he must know something about this “secret subsidy.”

“I don’t know anything about it,” he said Friday. Given that he is not on the pro-arena bandwagon, I asked Fong what he thought about a councilman potentially consorting with a lawyer suing the city.

“I don’t want any part of that,” Fong said. It’s easy to understand why. You expect elected officials to sometimes be in the minority of controversial votes and to continue fighting for their side.

It’s how they fight that separates the stand-up elected official from the weasel.

The prospect that McCarty was driven by his opposition to help gin up a lawsuit against the city takes being a political weasel to a whole different level.

Maybe McCarty says in his deposition that Soluri has it all wrong and that he didn’t aid a lawsuit against the city.

We won’t know until he does. But if you oppose the arena and support what Soluri claims McCarty did, ask yourself this:

Wouldn’t you rather have your public officials oppose a project the right way – in public, on the record – rather than sneaking around and putting self-interests over all?

If your answer is the ends justify the means, then God bless you. But if that is your answer, then you forfeit the right of complaining about political leaders disappointing you.

You can’t decry weasels while supporting them when it suits you.

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