The former executive director of the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, which owns and operates Chicago White Sox home U.S. Cellular Field, is accusing the former board chairman and the White Sox owner of improperly ousting her from the position in a federal lawsuit.
Perri Irmer charges that the board chairman at the time – former Gov. Jim Thompson – and baseball team owner and chairman Jerry Reinsdorf forced her out two years ago after she attempted to implement reforms opposed by Reinsdorf because they would raise the team’s costs.
The lawsuit charges that Reinsdorf had “undue influence over former Governor Thompson and apparently over all the members of the ISFA Board of Directors who became complicit in allowing Reinsdorf to treat Cellular Field and the surrounding publicly owned lands as his personal fiefdom.”
Irmer was hired in 2004 and left in 2011. She is seeking compensation for lost income and damages for pain and suffering and character damage. The authority owns and operates the White Sox’ stadium and also issued $400 million of bonds for the renovation of the Chicago Bears’ home Soldier Field.
Thompson and Reinsdorf dismissed the accusations in published reports and Thompson said Irmer’s contract had expired and the board wanted to make a change at the time. Thompson briefly took over as executive director.
Thompson – then the governor -- won state legislative support for public subsidies for the new White Sox stadium in 1987 after threats from Reinsdorf that he would move the team.
Gov. Pat Quinn, who controls four board positions, and newly elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who controls three, later reconfigured the board and Quinn picked retired state Senate President Emil Jones to take over for Thompson.
The executive director’s position was finally filled late last year but only after a dispute between Quinn and Emanuel. Quinn prevailed when the board approved Quinn’s pick – his communications chief Kelly Kraft -- but only after he replaced one board member who planned to vote for an alternative candidate with more fiscal experience.
The authority is exploring a refunding of the 2001 Soldier Field bonds. The agency was forced in fiscal 2011 to tap for the first time a portion – $185,000 -- of the city’s share of state income taxes because of a shortage in hotel tax revenues that go to repay the Soldier Field debt. City income taxes were pledged as a backup in the event hotel taxes fall short. Revenues have since picked up.