County Executive Armond Budish scampered to the offices of Cleveland.com last Thursday, accompanied by high-powered attorney Fred Nance and County Law Director Robert Triozzi.
The trio's mission: Assure the reporters and editors at Cleveland.com that the selection of Nance as negotiator and of his firm, Squire Patton Boggs, as bond counsel in the Q renovation deal was totally above-board and sensible, despite the absence of a formal bidding process.
County Councilman Jack Schron, during deliberations on the deal two weeks ago, noted the "awkwardness" of the arrangement. An amended version of the renovation resolution included a no-bid clause. To Schron, it seemed odd that Nance's firm should get the $325,000 bond contract without a bid after Nance had negotiated on the county's behalf. (The chipper Nance was pleased as punch to admit that he'd negotiated on behalf of the Cavs and Destination Cleveland as well.)
"There are efficiencies that can be achieved with this deal," Nance told Schron at the meeting, in defense of his firm. "It is not a cookie cutter deal. There are complexities and layers to it because of the Cavs' participation and the Cavs' standing behind some of the public revenues. All of which is why the decision was made that we would be primarily consideration to do this work" [sic].
At Cleveland.com Thursday, Nance, Budish and Triozzi elaborated: The county had interviewed six
alternative firms, they claimed, before deciding on Squire Patton Boggs. The firm had sold more bonds last year than any other firm in Cleveland and seemed especially qualified. Triozzi said that he preferred interviews to bids anyway, because they were more in-depth — fair enough.
As for Nance, who will be paid $25,000 for his work: He was tapped, basically, because he's buddies with the sports execs.
"Fred had good personal contacts with the parties in the deal, and he understood sports facilities," Budish told Cleveland.com.
Nance called himself the "obvious negotiator choice" because of his contacts in Cleveland and the sports industry and due to his experience negotiating contracts for Cleveland's football stadium and the medical mart. He said his negotiating approach is "to look for the win-win instead of bludgeoning the other side into submission."
(It should be noted here that the Q transformation deal as it stands is essentially the same version proposed by the Cavs two years ago
. If Budish and hound-dog negotiator Nance managed to do naught but rubber stamp a conceptual framework as proffered by the Cavs, are taxpayers really getting their money’s worth? Have "negotiations" really taken place?)
But Nance and Squire Patton Boggs also might be "obvious choices" because they donated money to Armond Budish's campaign.
County Exec Armond Budish
Nance claimed he was hired as a negotiator on Nov. 15, 2015. If that's true, exactly one month later, at a Budish fundraiser, he wrote a check for $1,000 to the County Executive. It was the first time Nance had donated.
Two weeks after that, Squire Patton Boggs PAC gave $2,500 to Budish's campaign, via county financial reports. That donation wasn't out of the ordinary. The firm had donated $3,000 to Budish's campaign in 2013 and $2,000 in 2014 (both as Squire Sanders LLC). In addition, the firm had made in-kind contributions of $701 and $654 in 2013 and 2014 — "beverages, appetizers, tip, parking."
Other major players in the Q deal negotiations have contributed to Armond Budish as well, which should heighten observers' concern about the County Executive's obstreperous fear-mongering on the Cavs' behalf
Len Komoroski, the president of the Cavs and Quicken Loans Arena and a board member at Destination Cleveland, donated a cool $2,000 to Armond Budish's campaign in October, 2014, campaign finance records show. Komoroski was then tapped to serve on Budish's "transition team
Also serving on the transition team was attorney Helen Forbes-Fields, who donated $200 to Budish's campaign. (Forbes Fields & Associates will work alongside Squire Patton Boggs to "structure the transaction" related to the sale of bonds.)
Both Warrensville Heights Mayor Brad Sellers and Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter served on Budish's transition team as well. They both donated $100 to his campaign and recently were among the three signatories on a letter from the County Mayors and City Managers Association enthusiastically endorsing the Q deal.
Not to be outdone, Dan Gilbert himself, on October 23, 2014, wrote a check to Armond Budish for $10,000.