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Minor league team ordered to disclose contract bids

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  1. Freedom of Information
A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled last week that a minor league baseball team's management group that contracts with a public…

A Pennsylvania appeals court ruled last week that a minor league baseball team’s management group that contracts with a public stadium authority must disclose concessionaires’ bids for contracts under the state’s public records law.

The July 22 order affirms both a lower court ruling and a determination by the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records, which ordered the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees to release the concessionaire contract bids requested by a local newspaper under the state Right-to-Know Law.

The Scranton Times Tribune in January 2009 requested from the Lackawanna County stadium authority access to and copies of all names and bids submitted to the Yankees for concessionaire contracts at their home stadium. The stadium authority denied the request, claiming that because the Yankees’ management group held the records, the bids were not subject to the public records law.

The newspaper appealed the denial to the state open records office, which ordered management to release the records. The Yankees then appealed to the trial court, which also ruled in favor of the newspaper.

The case dealt with a new provision of the state public records law that makes certain records held by private parties contracting with a government agency public if they perform a “governmental function” — a phrase the Yankees argued does not encompass sports and entertainment events. The appellate court disagreed, and ordered that the records be disclosed.

“The Authority has contracted out the operation of its baseball and entertainment events to [the] Yankees. Although at first blush it may appear that this operation is not a governmental function, [the] Yankees creates revenue for the Commonwealth and operates a public place for the benefit of the Commonwealth,” wrote Judge Johnny Butler for the unanimous three-judge panel.

“In addition, the bids requested from [the] Yankees clearly affect the amount of revenue generated by the Authority. Accordingly, the bids directly relate to the Authority’s governmental function, and thus are public records,” Butler wrote.

Taxpayers have a financial interest in public access to the bid records, since part of the revenue generated by concessions goes to retire millions of dollars in public stadium authority debt, said J. Timothy Hinton Jr., the attorney representing the Times Tribune.

“The newspaper is a watchdog for good government, and wanted to know the details of the concessionaire deal. Did it go to the best financial bids?” Hinton said.

The Yankees have 30 days to appeal the order to the state’s high court.