Reinsdorf, Thompson named in wrongful firing lawsuit - New York News

Reinsdorf, Thompson named in wrongful firing lawsuit

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CHICAGO (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

A former head of the public agency overseeing U.S. Cellular Field is suing White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and former Gov. Jim Thompson, alleging the two conspired to fire her after she tried to end long-standing practices that boosted White Sox revenue at the expense of the public.

Perri Irmer, former executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, said she was fired in April of 2011 after contacting public officials, to warn them of "problems" at the ISFA, according to the suit filed Monday in U.S. District Court.

Reinsdorf and Thompson "sought to silence Perri Irmer and to stifle her efforts to protect Illinois taxpayers from Reinsdorf's greed," the suit alleges.

Irmer is seeking unspecified compensation because the firing damaged her personal and professional reputation and resulted in a loss of income, according to the suit. The White Sox organization is not named as a defendant.

The ISFA, created by the Illinois General Assembly in 1987 with then-Governor Thompson's backing, was formed after Reinsdorf threatened to move the White Sox to Florida unless a new publicly financed stadium was built.

Thompson -- described as a Reinsdorf's "lackey" in the court filing -- became chairman of the ISFA board in 2005 and filled other leadership roles after his tenure on the board. Members of the ISFA board are appointed by the mayor of Chicago and the governor.

Efforts to reach Thompson were unsuccessful early Wednesday. A call placed to the White Sox communications office early Wednesday was not immediately returned.

"The highly favorable terms granted to the White Sox in 1988 and intended to last until at least 2029 served to create a sense of entitlement on the part of White Sox Chairman Reinsdorf, who has repeatedly acted as though Cellular Field was a gift by the Illinois taxpayers to Reinsdorf and his team," Irmer claimed in the suit.

Since its creation, the agency has used public money to build U.S. Cellular Field, construct the Bacardi at the Park restaurant and undertake renovations of the stadium, the suit alleges.

However, despite the influx of public funding, the White Sox organization has kept most of the revenue, the suit contends.

For example, the White Sox used U.S. Cellular Field rent-free until an agreement was inked in 2008 to pay the ISFA $1.2 million a year, according to the suit. Irmer claims she led that reform despite Reinsdorf's opposition.

Thompson and Reinsdorf also bristled after Irmer trimmed back a renovation project by several million dollars, Irmer claims. The funding was later restored once she was fired, the suit alleges.

And efforts to develop ISFA lands around the ballpark were also opposed by Reinsdorf because the White Sox organization would not share in the revenue and the new amenities could cut into concessions sales, Irmer alleges.

Meanwhile the public contribution to the baseball organization totals about $400 million, Irmer claims.

In 2008 Reinsdorf lobbied then-Governor Rod Blagojevich to push for Irmer's removal, but the effort never came to fruition because Blagojevich was arrested several days later, the suit claims.

Matters between Irmer, Reinsdorf and Thompson came to a head again on April 25, 2011, several days before Irmer had a meeting to discuss ISFA financing with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the suit states.

The complaint alleges Irmer arrived at work but found she was locked out of her office. The former governor and one of his staffers were waiting for her. They told her she could resign or she would be forcibly removed form her position by the board. She refused and on April 27th was fired, according to the suit.

"This termination was motivated by Reinsdorf's and Thompson's fear that Perri Irmer would be successful in creating political pressure to reform the way that the ISFA does business," the suit states.

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