That is the Stadium Boondoggle Pig:
Frustrated that it may be losing a public-relations battle, Hennepin County has hired a consulting firm to help convey its side of the story in the land dispute involving the new Minnesota Twins stadium.
The move comes as the county and the owners of the 8-acre site in downtown Minneapolis are scheduled to appear Friday before a special mediator to try to agree on a sale price before the nearly yearlong condemnation case goes to trial in November. It also comes as the landowners said they would today file a formal appeal of a $23.8 million award announced by a condemnation panel last month.
As the complicated and drawn-out legal dispute has continued, both sides have complained about unfair news coverage. Though the county's contract with New School Communications amounts to just $25,000, county officials acknowledged it was a sign of their concern with what they say are opportunistic and inaccurate statements being made by the landowners in an attempt to sway public opinion on the controversial project and land dispute.
The consulting firm is headed by Blois Olson, a former press secretary to the late Minnesota Congressman Bruce Vento.
"We recognize the landowners have been far, far, far more aggressive than the county in dealing with the media in putting out partial information," said Board Chairman Randy Johnson. "We just want the whole story to be told."
County officials defended the county's decision to hire the company even though the county has a public affairs office with 16 employees and a $2 million annual budget. "It would take away from our core work," said Carolyn Marinan, the county's public affairs director. "This is not the type of work this office does.
"I think there's a need to have a very focused and concentrated effort to counter the attacks that we think are utterly untrue coming from the other side," she said.
County officials said the consulting firm will focus on getting the county's story to local business and community leaders -- and others whom Johnson said "should be natural allies." Olson declined to comment on the contract, which runs through the end of 2008.
But Aron Kahn, a former St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter who is the primary spokesman for the landowners, said the reasons for hiring Olson's firm are clear. The "county commissioners had been pounding [on the landowners] for months, vilifying them with false claims," he said. "I guess the commissioners don't like it when someone pushes back."
Kahn, who began working for the landowners in February, declined to disclose his salary. The primary landowner is Land Partners II, a limited liability partnership that has signed a development agreement with Hines Interests, a large Texas-based developer that has played a major role in the condemnation.
I have no sympathy for the County. They should have gotten the price worked out prior to voting on this. They wanted to hurry this through prior to the election - without full disclosure on the problems.