Boardwalk Hall’s longtime management firm, SMG, has filed another lawsuit in state Superior Court against the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, continuing a battle over the hall’s operations.
The lawsuit filed last week by SMG’s Newark-based attorneys, Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster LLC, alleges that the authority has wrongfully denied parts of SMG’s Open Public Records Act requests for information on the management contract’s award process, which yielded an award to SMG’s competitor Comcast-Spectacor. Other documents that were provided were wrongfully redacted, according to the lawsuit.
“Specifically, defendants violated OPRA by, among other things, failing to timely respond to SMG’s requests, improperly redacting documents, and erroneously asserting the ‘deliberative process’ and ‘competitive advantage’ exemptions under OPRA as a basis for withholding numerous records,” the lawsuit states.
This marks the second time in four months that SMG has sued the ACCVA. In December, the company filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging that the authority used a faulty procurement process, which stated that arbitration — not the legal process required by the state — was the only way to resolve a disagreement. A judge ruled that the ACCVA must allow for a legal process, including a hearing, to resolve any dispute over the contract award.
John Donnelly, an attorney for the ACCVA, confirmed that the lawsuit was received but said nothing was intentionally withheld from SMG.
“There’s been a difference of opinion over the release of certain documents,” said Donnelly, who declined to elaborate.
SMG has previously disputed the makeup of the committee that selected the new operator. That committee included representatives of the Atlantic City Alliance and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, neither of which have any formal oversight over ACCVA operations.
In addition to the newest suit, SMG has formally disputed the contract award and requested a hearing. To date, none has been set, Donnelly said.
SMG’s contract has been extended through the end of this month, and Comcast-Spectacor is unable to take over operations until the issue is resolved. The ACCVA’s current contract with SMG is worth $221,052 per year, with as much as $221,052 available in different bonuses and incentives, documents state.
Citing what SMG officials categorized as a proposals process filled with conflicts of interest and procedural defects, the company began filing OPRA requests in November, a month before the ACCVA awarded the contract, legal documents state. The company requested copies of evaluation forms, emails, letters and voicemails circulated among the committee that selected Comcast-Spectacor, according to a breakdown of the OPRA requests provided by SMG consultant John Samerjan.
The ACCVA did not release those documents and others, arguing they were exempt from release as advisory, consultative or deliberative materials not subject to OPRA. The authority also said it did not have copies of any documents relating to the process the ACCVA used to establish the evaluation committee, nor did it have copies of the committee’s meeting minutes.
“Major conflict questions remain unresolved and unanswered,” Samerjan wrote in an email.
SMG has also taken issue with ACCVA board member Dave Coskey’s involvement in the decision to hire Comcast-Spectacor. Now president of Longport Media, Coskey previously worked for Comcast-Spectacor, leaving as the company’s president of marketing in 2005. ACCVA officials, however, have said the issue was discussed prior to any votes and it was determined not be a problem.
Legal documents show SMG has questioned why the ACCVA said it did not have financial disclosure statements for Coskey and others.
State Ethics Commission Executive Director Peter Tober said the ACCVA is not required to file financial disclosures. That, however, will change when the agency folds into the CRDA, a move required by the same state legislation that created the Atlantic City Tourism District. The two agencies have less than a year left to make the Feburary 2014 deadline to complete the merger.
Agencies including the CRDA, South Jersey Transportation Authority and the New Jersey Turnpike Authority are required to file financial disclosures. An opinion offered by the state attorney general in 1992 determined that the ACCVA is not subject to the reporting requirements and is not considered a local government agency.
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