MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Monday’s meeting between state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and West Virginia Radio Corp. owner John Raese brought little progress on the WVU third-tier media rights controversy. But it did spawn dueling press releases and claims that Morrisey became angry and “left the room in a huff.”
Raese, whose company owns MetroNews and has broadcasted West Virginia football and basketball games through a decades-old partnership with the university’s Mountaineer Sports Network, has been publicly skeptical of the bidding process by which IMG College landed the third-tier rights deal. Conflict-of-interest allegations that must be addressed involve WVU Board of Governors president Drew Payne, an investor in West Virginia Media, which stands to profit from the 12-year, $110-million deal as an IMG College subcontractor.
In February, Raese called for Payne to resign from the BOG and asked WVU President James Clements to rebid the third-tier rights contract. Raese’s company also requested numerous documents and correspondences pertaining to the athletic department via the Freedom of Information Act — information the school has yet to release. Finally, Raese requested the attorney general’s office review the integrity of the bidding process.
Morrisey joined the fray in early March, pledging to “assist WVU in the ongoing internal review” — language not to be overlooked since it aligned the attorney general with the school and not as an impartial overseer. At any rate, Morrisey vowed to “help ensure that all applicable laws and regulations are being followed,” and if that transpires, all parties should be satisfied.
All of which leads to Monday’s meeting in Morgantown, where Morrisey — accompanied by the AG’s chief counsel Dan Greear — met with Raese and Bob Gwynne, attorney and executive vice president for Raese’s holding company, Greer Industries.
According to the adversarial press releases, the meeting did not prove productive. Raese’s camp issued its release late afternoon, with Morrisey’s office responding around 7:30 p.m. In chronological order, here are the releases:
From Raese and Gwynne:
Mr. Morrisey started the meeting by saying that WVU was his client and that he and his staff were conducting a review/investigation of the media rights bid proposal as well as other issues. Mr. Morrisey said he was here today to obtain information from us as to the matters we had previously raised. We told him that we were all about transparency and that the public, the taxpayers of West Virginia, have a right to know the affairs of government and the acts of those who represent them. We told him that it violated basic fairness for him to come to us and ask us for information when his client had “stonewalled”not only us but others who sought information through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). We told him that his client is required by law under the FOIA statute to provide those responses within five days. We further told him that FIOA requests had been outstanding since February and his client’s actions were not consistent with the spirit of the law. Mr. Morrisey provided no answer as to why his client had not timely responded to the FOIA requests. We told him that it was not appropriate for him to come and ask us for information when his client had refused to provide us and others with information sought in accordance with the statute.
We asked him when his review/investigation would be concluded. He could not provide us with a time table other than to say he was trying to put the review/investigation on the fast track. He said he needed to go over some more facts. Our impression was that he already had sufficient time to go over all the facts. Likewise, we told him that we did not believe it was coincidental that his client’s responses had been pushed out to April 15 — the Monday following the WVU Board or Governors meeting on Friday, April 12.
We asked him who would be present when he advised the Board of Governors of these matters. He did not specifically answer this question other than to say the process would have integrity. We suggested to him that when he did meet with Board of Governors that his presentation be open to the public in general session so that all matters could be transparent to the public as opposed to behind closed doors in executive session. We told him the public needs to know. He had no response to this suggestion.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mr. Morrisey asked us if we were going to provide him and Mr. Greear with information in this matter. We told him that we were all about providing information to assist in the investigation of this matter and that we would do so in order to be transparent once his own client became transparent and provided information consistent with the requirements of the FOIA law. We suggested another meeting once his client provided the information. We told him that if we received this information from his client, we would be better able to cover all of the facts with him. At this point, Mr. Morrisey got up from his chair, announced he was the attorney general, told us he was angry, asked if we were going to disclose this meeting to the press, and then left the room in a huff.”
Attorney General Morrisey’s response to Raese:
“In the spirit of fairness and in a good faith attempt to make additional progress in our office’s review of the West Virginia media rights matter, today I sat down with John Raese and his attorney, so that we could learn additional information that might allow our office to get to the bottom of his allegations. Unfortunately, after I arrived, it became clear that Mr. Raese did not wish to provide our office with additional information or answer any questions. This is deeply disappointing, especially because Mr. Raese had originally asked our office to become involved in this case. I expected better.
The integrity of the Attorney General’s office review will not be compromised by any of the economic interests at stake here. We intend to pursue the truth and handle this matter appropriately notwithstanding the fact that everyone may not be happy with the result. We continue to work diligently to adhere to the rule of law so that the public will have confidence in the outcome of our review.”
Those statements indicate two parties dug in to their respective positions, and each side has credible positions. Morrisey’s office apparently needs help from Raese to support his allegations, and West Virginia Radio sounds reluctant to offer up anything at this point after the attorney general made it clear he’s representing the very institution Raese believes to ethically deficient, at least in this case.
A more complete picture should emerge regarding the legitimacy of the bidding once WVU finally provides the information it’s legally bound to hand over. If IMG College garnered an unfair advantage because of Payne’s position, then a rebidding might well be in order. And if the third-tier rights selection must begin anew, Raese should honor his pledge not to resubmit a proposal on behalf of West Virginia Radio Corp. And if the Morrisey/WVU coordinated review finds that the deal was handled legally, ethically and without the appearance of impropriety, then IMG College can get on with its business model — paying WVU $110 million for rights it feels it can leverage for much more.