Happy ending unlikely in sports complex deal

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 31, 2010

In “The Music Man,” a musical often staged by high schools, a fast-talking con man visits Gary, Ind., and tells the townspeople their children are idle and at-risk. If they will pay him for musical instruments, in advance, he guarantees they’ll have a fine band — 76 trombones and all.

Similarly, when representatives of something called USA Partners Sports Alliance visited Vicksburg City Hall in 2007, the allure of a $25 million, no make that $40 million private, profitable youth sports complex — to be the envy of all America — was too much to resist. Mayor Laurence Leyens joined by the aldermen, Sid Beauman and Michael Mayfield, with little public discussion or delay, plunked down $250,000 for the Florida company to conduct a feasibility study for such a sports complex.

No worry, though, because if the project were deemed “unfeasible,” the money would be returned — every penny.

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Not only has a study not been delivered, not a single penny of the $250,000 has been returned.

Leyens, until he left office, pledged to keep seeking a refund. Now Mayor Paul Winfield says he will, too, although it appears Winfield’s interest seems to be embarrassing Leyens more than getting back any money. Winfield said J.D. Daniel, identified as CEO of USAPSA, offered last summer to start repaying at $18,000 per month, but Winfield said he refused, indicating that if he did so he might, in effect, ratify a deal he believes was bogus from the start.

The city has now sent out a press release saying the mayor is requesting an investigation by the state auditor. The problem there is that the state auditor has no authority to review municipal contracts, much less any authority to start a prosecution. If Winfield, an attorney, really thinks the contract is illegal, then his chats should be with the district attorney or the attorney general. And what remedy? Does he want Beauman, Mayfield and former City Attorney Nancy Thomas, now municipal judge, or their bonding companies to cover the taxpayers’ loss? Does he want his colleagues in jail?

Whenever a “dream project” is proposed for a community, it’s only natural for enthusiasm to rise. No one enjoys being a naysayer. High hopes for the private complex were raised, only to be dashed.

“The Music Man” had a happy ending. That’s not likely to be the situation with USA Partners Sports Alliance. The mayor is right to seek recovery, but the city’s best shot is by winning a judgment against the company for breach by nonperformance. To request an investigation by a state official who has no such authority is to put on a show. Entertaining, but not productive.