Antunes should pay up, or pipe down

It is becoming a too familiar sight — the sad symbiosis between news organizations desperate for a story and a fading provocateur desperately clinging to fleeting celebrity. It was played out yet again recently with the appearance on a local TV news broadcast of Cathy Antunes, the president of Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government, as she launched a new broadside against Sarasota County and the Baltimore Orioles organization, in a vain attempt to make new what is a decidedly old story.

Antunes and SCRG failed spectacularly in their 2010 lawsuit to thwart bringing the Baltimore Orioles to Sarasota for spring training. Not only did they lose in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, but they were rebuked by the Florida Supreme Court, which, in flatly denying SCRG’s appeal, curtly ordered, “No motion for rehearing will be allowed.”

The Baltimore Orioles take on the Boston Red Sox at Ed Smith Stadium in March. Photo by Norman Schimmel

Finally, 12thJudicial Circuit Judge Robert B. Bennett took the uncommon step of awarding Sarasota County a portion of the costs it had incurred in fighting the lawsuit. The amount was $19,611.74, for outside legal assistance. County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh reported to the County Commission in January that the figure did not include any time staff attorneys put into the case, because their time was considered part of their regular work.

Yet, the county has been unable to collect any money from SCRG, because the nonprofit organization claims it is broke. In January, Antunes provided the county Attorney’s Office a copy of the organization’s latest Form 990 — required of all nonprofits by the Internal Revenue Service  — to show it cannot begin to pay the county what it owes.

And that money, we must stress, is owed to every Sarasota County taxpayer.

The irony of Antunes’ latest brouhaha is her cries that the Orioles are not doing enough to benefit youth sports programs in the county. It’s a colossal case of “the pot calling the kettle black” for Antunes and her fellow scofflaws in SCRG to accuse an organization of not doing enough to supplement county programs, when they are hiding behind the corporate veil of a bankrupt organization. They thus are free to enjoy zero liability for the past visitation of their mischief on county taxpayers. And, more disturbing, they continue in that mischief to this day, smugly thumbing their noses at those to whom they are indebted.

It is high time for Antunes and every other officer, director and member of SCRG to demonstrate the sort of community goodwill they call for in others. They should pool their personal resources to make full restitution for the $19,611.74, plus accrued interest, owed to the people of Sarasota County.

They have a constitutional right to behave shamefully. But they have no right to avoid the legal and financial consequences of their shameful behavior.