Did Jerry Reinsdorf and Jim Thompson try to silence ISFA CEO?

Ben Javorsky, of the Chicago Reader wrote a really interesting article last week about a lawsuit recently filed against former Governor James Thompson and current White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf. The plaintiff, Perri Irmer, is alleging that the two men colluded to have her fired from her job as CEO of the Illinois Sports Facility Authority[“ISFA”]. The IFSA, founded in 1987, is a governmental entity that oversees the renovation and construction of sports facilities for Illinois professional sports teams.

As Javorsky notes in his article, back in the mid-80’s, Reinsdorf was making noise about moving the Sox to Tampa Bay unless the City agreed to build a new stadium to replace aging Comiskey Park. At the time, Jim Thompson was Governor and Harold Washington was Mayor of the City of Chicago. Neither one of them were anxious to be remembered as the politicians who allowed the Sox to flee south. So the pols got together and not long thereafter a stadium deal was muscled through the General Assembly. According to the Javorsky article, Illinois taxpayers financed the construction of a new stadium for the White Sox, now known as The Cell. The legislation called for 100% public financing of the new stadium. Construction was started in 1989 and The Cell opened in 1991. IFSA was designated as the owner and operator of the stadium – but the White Sox collected most of the revenue generated at ball games. That was the arrangement for nearly 20 years and no one made any noise.

In 2004, Perri Irmer was named CEO of the ISFA. A couple of years later, she started to make some noise. In 2008, through Irmer’s efforts, the ISFA persuaded the White Sox to start paying rent [$1.2 million a year] for use of the park. Additionally, Irmer was backing development of a restaurant and related shops across from the ballpark – which would generate additional funds that would be earmarked for the State. But that never happened. Instead, in 2011, “Bacardi at the Park” an upscale restaurant opened up right across from The Cell. Construction of the restaurant itself cost about $3.2 million, while infrastructure upgrades were another $3.7 million. Once again, that $6.9 million was paid by Illinois taxpayers. But the State gets NONE of the profits from Bacardi at The Park. According to most reports, Governor Thompson signed off on those details back in the 80’s when the original legislation was being cobbled together. When all this came to light recently, local media asked Governor Thompson to explain how anyone who allegedly was representing the interests of Illinois taxpayers, could ever sign off on such a one-sided deal. Thompson replied, “We said to Jerry, “Jerry, can we have part of the profits?” And he said no. We said, Ok. I’ve known Jerry for 52 years. He’s tough. He’s tough.” Oh. Okay then. That explains it. Wonder if he teaches those fierce negotiating techniques to new lawyers at Winston & Strawn?

Getting back to the lawsuit, the suit alleges that Reinsdorf, unhappy with having to pay rent, then lobbied former Governor Rod Blagojevich to dump Irmer from ISFA. And, the suit alleges, in December of 2008, a top Blagojevich aid told Irmer that Reinsdorf was unhappy and Irmer was road kill. The suit also alleges however, that Irmer was told that if she played nice and “resigned” there would be a cushy job for her in the private sector. But Blago got indicted and had other things on his plate. So the ISFA renewed Irmer’s contract.

Flash forward to 2011. The suit alleges Perri showed up at work one day and discovered she was locked out of her office. Thompson was waiting for her, and summoned her into a conference room where he told her she could resign or be fired. Additionally, he allegedly told her that if she didn’t resign, and forced the ISFA Board to fire her, her reputation would be “ruined”. Irmer refused to resign. Two day later she was fired. The lawsuit alleges that Irmer was fired because the powers that be wanted her quiet and didn’t appreciate her efforts to protect Illinois taxpayers.

Thompson won’t comment and Reinsdorf says the suit has no merit. We’ll see. Irmer is represented by Carmen Caruso and Linda Chatman.

Lastly…interesting piece of trivia….guess who threw out the first pitch at the Grand Opening of The Cell in 1991? Answer: Jim Thompson.