Grand Prix turmoil spreads to Federal Hill Neighborhood Association

Residents move to oust board members over use of Grand Prix funds

November 17, 2011|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore Grand Prix's turmoil has spread to the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, with residents demanding the resignation of several board members over their handling of race funds.

At issue is a struggle over $10,000 in community impact funds that financially beleaguered Baltimore Racing Development Inc. gave to the neighborhood association as compensation for inconveniences the race caused the neighborhood.

Several board members, including past president Paul Robinson, have proposed giving the funds back to Grand Prix organizers as they struggle to pay millions back to lenders and vendors, or freezing the funds until the racing company has paid back its $1.5 million-plus bill to the city — a move fiercely opposed by new association President Ryan Hada. Hada wants to use the funds for as-yet-undetermined projects in the neighborhood.

This week, Hada said, about 50 neighborhood association members voted "overwhelmingly" to request the resignation of Robinson and fellow board members Thomas Gregory and John Rehmert.

At the association's meeting Tuesday night, members became angry over the board's "mismanagement" and "irresponsible" behavior, Hada said.

"The membership is not happy," he said.

Gregory, a board member who proposed returning the funds to Grand Prix organizers in hopes of keeping area vendors in business, said the move could set a "symbolic" precedent that would urge "all other community groups and politicians who received contributions from BRD to do likewise."

Robinson wrote in an email that he supported the measure not only to make a statement but "also to reduce the burden … of my fellow taxpayers who will apparently now be left with the responsibility of funding all of the Grand Prix's unpaid bills."

Baltimore officials have threatened to end their contract with Baltimore Racing Development unless the company pays taxes and reimbursements it owes, and Grand Prix officials have acknowledged that they owe millions to city and state agencies, private companies and individuals. Company officials also have vowed to cover their debts and have begun to make changes at the company.

Robinson said board members voted Nov. 9 to place the $10,000 in a "restricted, interest-bearing instrument" until such time as Baltimore Racing Development has "fully satisfied its fiduciary obligations to Baltimore City." Hada did not attend that meeting.

But at Tuesday's meeting, after Hada had learned of the board's vote, Robinson contends that Hada manipulated the crowd into a 90-minute tirade of "unseemly personal attacks."

"No opportunity was given to those who were falsely accused to respond. It was a litany of craziness," Robinson said. "Nobody is going to force me to resign my position, especially under false pretenses."

But Hada described the meeting as going "well" and said that "everyone had their chance to talk."

He said board members have not been returning his emails or phone calls, and he can't work with a board that is "unprofessional."

If the board members don't resign, Hada said, he would produce motions from community members to oust Robinson and Gregory at a meeting Dec. 20. He said he hoped the board members would either work with him and put the funds toward community projects or agree to step down.

"We're not hoping for another confrontation," Hada said.

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