Thursday, August 5, 2004

Financial records ordered held

Court bars Freedom files from release by Florence

By Brenna R. Kelly
Enquirer staff writer

BURLINGTON - A judge Wednesday ordered the city of Florence not to release records that are part of the city's stadium lease with the owners of the Florence Freedom.

Chuck Hildebrant, one of the team's owners, asked for a restraining order after the city notified his attorney that The Kentucky Enquirer asked for the financial statements he provided to the city.

On Tuesday, the city of Florence denied a request for the records, citing a privacy exemption in Kentucky's public records law.

The city also said it would not release the records because Hildebrant's attorney was planning to ask for an injunction.

Boone Circuit Judge Anthony Frohlich issued the restraining order after a hearing Wednesday morning.

The Florence Freedom has an Aug. 22 deadline to pay off 17 liens totaling $3.2 million.

If they are not paid, the team faces eviction from the stadium, which is built on city land.

The records detailing Connie and Chuck Hildebrant's personal finances are part of the lease agreement between the city and the team's ownership group, Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball.

In the lease, the Hildebrants guaranteed they had enough personal assets to cover the cost of the stadium.

The guarantee will not be released until the stadium, which is still under construction, is complete and all contractors are paid in full, the lease states.

There are 17 liens filed by contractors who say they haven't been paid for work on the stadium. This violated the lease, which states that the stadium cannot have any debt.

Northern Kentucky Professional Baseball owns the stadium, which is built on land the city bought. The city issued $7 million in bonds for the 30 acres and improvements to the site.

If the team folds or defaults on the lease, the city will own the stadium.

"It's an interesting situation," said John Fleischaker, an attorney for the Kentucky Press Association, "but I think the public has an interest in knowing why the city acted as it did when it went into the deal."

Fleischaker, based in Louisville, said that Hildebrant should have the chance to argue in court to keep the records sealed, and the court must decide whether releasing the records is an invasion of privacy.

"At first blush, financial records are private," he said, "but when you use your financial records to get a major benefit from local government, there's strong argument that it ceases to be private."

Though the city denied the Enquirer's request citing the privacy exemption, in his request for the restraining order, Hildebrant's attorney Andrew Schaeffer, said the city attorney told him the records were not exempt and that without a restraining order, the city would release the records.

Schaeffer argues the records "contain information that touches upon intimate and personal features of Mr. Hildebrant's private life."


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