City Free Sonics Tickets. $15.4 Million Worth.
posted by June 16 at 7:45 AMon
Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis is a total smart aleck.
If I were a lawyer, I would not want to cross examine him. But if you’re rooting for Ceis, he’s a treat. And, the way this Sonics story is shaking out, it’s likely you’re rooting for him.
Despite the fact we all voted against city subsidies for the Sonics in 2006 (74 percent of us anyway), you know in your heart you want the Sonics to stay, and you’re rooting against Clay Bennett and his homophobe Oklahoma ownership group.
That means you’re rooting for Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, one of the potential witnesses in the city’s lawsuit against Bennett, going to trial today, to make the Sonics play at KeyArena for two more seasons. (Oklahoma businessman Bennett, whose group bought the Sonics and Storm in 2006 for $350 million, pledged to keep the Sonics in Seattle. However, after failing to get $400 million in public assistance in 2007 to build a new stadium in Renton, Bennett won NBA approval this Spring to move the team to Oklahoma City. Seattle has sued to make Bennett honor the Sonics’s KeyArena lease agreement, which locks them into playing at KeyArena through 2010. Bennett also tried to buyout the remainder of the lease for $26.5 million. The city, which still owes about $30 million, turned that down.)
To get an earful of Ceis’s excellent smarty pants ways, all you have to do is read his April 28 deposition.
My favorite part of his deposition—in addition to when Ceis points out that his signature actually isn’t on a supposedly damning document that Bennett’s lawyer Paul Taylor seems to think it’s on—is when Taylor tries to trip up the Deputy Mayor (and by implication, the city) for dealing with Bennett’s Sonics in bad faith. (Yes, even though Bennett is the one who got caught sending what appear to be double-crossing emails, Bennett’s team of lawyers is out to show that it’s actually the city who was dealing in bad faith.)
Early on in Ceis’s deposition, to try and establish that Ceis is an untrustworthy character, Taylor asks Ceis why Ceis alerted a local Save Our Sonics activist to the fact that Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner had evidence that Ceis had been at a top-secret NBA meeting—a meeting that Ceis agreed not to disclose.
Ceis’s candid, F.U. answer: “Because he [Brunner] did [have the evidence].”
Ceis’s factual statement—Brunner had done a public records request that proved Ceis was in New York—cleverly exonerates Ceis from breaking any non-disclosure agreement. It also reveals that Ceis is interested in letting the public know exactly what’s going on. Right on, Deputy Mayor.
However, I have to admit, there’s a moment in Ceis’s deposition that captures the weird schizophrenia of the city’s position and of this whole Sonics thing. Referring to the city’s attempt late last legislative session to get the state to authorize $75 million in King County taxing authority to help pay for a KeyArena expansion, Taylor asks Ceis, “If the public was not supportive of investing in KeyArena, why were you trying to seek public money to invest in KeyArena?”
It’s a fair question. And even Ceis cannot quite answer this one. He yammers about being a “responsible public official…trying to find a way to satisfy the needs of the franchise and hopefully have a long-term relationship with the Sonics.”
This is all well and good for a parse-y legal answer in a deposition, but it sidesteps the real question that Taylor (unwittingly or not) is asking; a question that 74 percent of us are probably asking ourselves: Do we want the Sonics to stay or not?
Again, you’re probably rooting for the Sonics to stay, but simultaneously, you’re proud of our city (and our legislature) for not being sycophantic NBA ass kissers; for being the only place in the United States of America to say no to the NBA’s crass business model; for setting a precedent against David Stern and Co.’s corporate blackmail.
Despite all the Slick Watts (headband!)/Dennis Johnson (1979!)/Jack Sikma (white guy)/Shawn Kemp/Gary Payton/Ray Allen memories, wouldn’t it be great if Seattle made national news for setting a Just-Say-No precedent to arena subsidies and the bloated world of professional sports that those subsidies condone and perpetuate.
If the the city wins the lawsuit, and the Sonics are here for two more seasons, do you really want the city to use that window of opportunity (as their plan appears to be) to hustle up a “reasonable” public subsidy to make them stay?
I think the city has a good shot at winning its lawsuit. I’m not a lawyer, but City Attorney Tom Carr’s beautifully bitchy brief is hard to dispute: The Sonics signed a lease that said they’d play in KeyArena until 2010. There you have it.
If yesterday’s Seattle Times account of U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman is accurate—that she’s a no-nonsense fact checker—then I like the city’s hand a lot better than Bennett’s.
Here’s what I think the city should do if it wins: Make the Sonics pay us back the money they still owe us on the current subsidy. And I’m not talking about the estimated $30 million that’s still due. I’m talking about the estimsted $15.4 million in back debt service they owe us. Remember? The city revamped KeyArena for the Sonics in 1995 for about $74 million, and the city has ended up picking up the Sonics’ payments to the tune of $2 to $3 million a year going back to 2001.
If Judge Pechman ends up ruling in favor of the city, she should order the Sonics to make $15.4 million worth of free tickets available to the public. With an average price of $40, that’s about 385,000 tickets. I’d say it’d take about two seasons to hand out that many tickets. The public would finally get what it wanted when it agreed to fork over $74 million dollars: the chance to go to a basketball game
Here’s a link to a Soincs primer I wrote when this story first started brewing.
I’ll be filing updates from the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Seattle all week.