By Betty Roccograndi
If you’ve been following the battle of the counties, it doesn’t appear as though Luzerne County has done a very good job protecting its $1-million investment in the Triple A baseball franchise it purchased with Lackawanna County in 1986.
Either that, or Lackawanna County pulled a real fast one on its sister county.
And now, we’re going to pay for it.
It’s still hard getting past the fact that in 2007, Luzerne County spent almost $61,000 to “explore” a lawsuit against Lackawanna County over the ownership of the franchise. Now we wonder, what will a real day in court cost?
We’re about to find out.
Monday, the three county commissioners voted to sue Lackawanna County and its Multi-Purpose Stadium Authority for refusing to split franchise profits per the 1986 pact, The Times Leader reported. They hired a Philadelphia firm and agreed to pay up to $17,500 to draft and file the suit and then $395 per hour FOR EACH lawyer and $195 per hour FOR EACH paralegal for any additional work. Who knew paralegals made that much money? Let’s hope the county is asking for attorneys’ fees in its lawsuit should it prevail.
Long story short. Luzerne County claims it is an equal partner in the franchise, currently filled by the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees and thus is entitled to half the profits and any sales proceeds. County officials said that each county paid $1 million to buy the franchise.
But Lackawanna County contends that neither county owns the franchise, that it is owned by the stadium authority. Oh yeah? How is that when each county split the franchise cost equally?
In 2007, Lackawanna County officials, on their own, drafted an agreement giving the Yankees the right to buy the franchise for $13 million and that Lackawanna County would keep up to $10 million for stadium-related debt it incurred, according to the TL’s report.
How this was allowed to happen is one big mystery.
And, surprise, surprise, former county commissioner Greg Skrepenak is part of the mess in which we now find ourselves.
Luzerne County planned to sue Lackawanna County three years ago for seemingly stripping it of its rights under the 1986 franchise agreement. A press conference was scheduled to announce the lawsuit, but Skrepenak abruptly cancelled it, the TL has reported.
End of story – even though nothing was resolved. The other majority commissioner at the time was the late Rose Tucker, who was filling in after Todd Vonderheid quit. Minority Commissioner Steve Urban said Skrepenak offered no explanation why he canceled the press concerence and apparently the lawsuit in which the county already invested $61,000.
So did Urban demand an explanation from Skrepenak? Did anyone?
If ever an investigation was called for, this is it, especially considering that former Lackawanna County commissioner, Robert Cordaro, faces a 40-count indictment, for allegedly soliciting and accepting cash and gifts from individuals and companies seeking to do business with the county, according to press reports. One of those contracts reportedly involved a major league baseball team, and it was Cordaro who negotiated the mysterious 2007 franchise-related agreements.
Luzerne County Commissioners Maryanne Petrilla, Steve Urban and Tom Cooney had no choice but to pursue this lawsuit when a $1-million investment is at stake, not to mention any profits our county may be due, especially if the franchise is sold.
The lawsuit also argues that the 2007 agreements enacted solely by Lackawanna County allowed its stadium authority to receive almost $629,000 in franchise proceeds from 2007 to 2009. Luzerne County is claiming it is owed half.
And we’re challenging this three years after the fact?
We should not rest until we find out why Luzerne County was frozen out of the decision-making process and why Greg Skrepenak, who’s off to prison for accepting a bribe in another matter, squashed a lawsuit that probably should have been filed back in 2007 after $61,000 was spent exploring it.
Someone in Luzerne County really dropped the ball here, and now we taxpayers are stuck paying for what will likely be a very costly lawsuit.