SARASOTA, Fla. - Suggesting they're exempt from certain state public record laws because of Major League Baseball trade secrets, the Atlanta Braves and Sarasota County officials are denying a public records request pertaining to the publicly-subsidized spring training project presented to county commissioners Tuesday.
The Braves are seeking state, county, and city of North Port dollars to help fund a new $80 million complex that would play host to the team’s spring training and Florida operations for the next 30 years.
It was evident Tuesday that the discussions, months in the making, had progressed significantly. But when 10Investigates requested the public records that had been prepared to this point, county spokesperson Jason Bartolone responded that the Braves “have asserted confidentiality rights” under Florida State Statute 288.075, which aims to protect proprietary business information and trade secrets in public-private economic development deals.
FSS 288.075 is one of the same exemptions used by rapper Pitbull and public agency Visit Florida to deny 10Investigates’ 2015 public records request into the artist’s taxpayer-funded tourism contract. The secrecy and controversy surrounding the deal, later disclosed to be worth $1 million, wound up costing three of the agency’s top executives their jobs.
10Investigates has been trying to keep an eye on Sarasota County's latest spring training negotiations after it failed to secure all of the Baltimore Orioles' 2009 promises in writing. As a result, a promised economy-driving Cal Ripken youth academy was never built.
But questions remain whether the negotiations between the Braves and Sarasota County regarding a taxpayer-subsidized stadium are eligible for the confidentiality protection.
The statute suggests confidentiality only for proprietary information where "the disclosure of the information would cause harm to the business operations of the corporation." Using such an exemption to withhold drafts of a contract, which will later become public, may not fit the description of “trade secrets” that would cause harm to the Braves’ business operations.
FSS 288.075 also offers confidentiality protections for certain business plans and trade secrets of companies that may be looking to quietly relocate to – or within – Florida. However, there would seem to be no secrets about the Braves’ intent to move to Sarasota County following public announcements and appearances in the last week.
10Investigates will continue to seek records regarding the county’s negotiations with the Braves until they become public.