The great and powerful Host: Who’s the man behind the Arena curtain?

Late on the afternoon of April 19, Arena Authority Chairman W. James Host, accompanied by five suits with big titles, appeared before the finance committee of the Louisville Metro Council to make the case for building a downtown arena at the LG&E site instead of the old Water Company site.

Although Host vowed again that he absolutely has no intention of running for public office, he is a politician, make no mistake. Due to decades of sales pitches on behalf of his business, the Republican Party and other causes, Host oozes polish, self-confidence bordering on arrogance, and the power of persuasion.

His presentation to the Metro Council was vintage Host. By comparison, David Jones and John Schnatter, who appeared earlier in the meeting to argue on behalf of the old Water Company site, were amateurs. Yet their simple earnestness and conviction offered stark contrast to Host’s slick and professional production.

Only once did Host become nonplussed, and that was when Councilman Jim King asked him a hypothetical: If the situation was reversed and the University of Louisville said it would play at the Water Company site but not the LG&E site, would Host support that?

After a moment’s hesitation, Host gave a non-answer that didn’t satisfy King. So the councilman repeated his question, to which Host said: “To be honest with you, I think the riverfront (LG&E) site is best for the commonwealth and the community.”

At more or less the same time that Host was being “honest” with King, the state attorney general’s office in Frankfort was issuing an opinion that the Arena Auth

ority had violated state law by failing to comply with an open records request filed by LEO on March 8.
That request asked for telephone records; notes of meetings with representatives of E.ON U.S, Humana, former Courier-Journal publisher Ed Manassah, attorney Ed Glasscock and others; and other documents dating back to Oct. 14, when Host’s resignation as Secretary of the Commerce Cabinet became official.

Under state law, a public agency must respond to an open records request within three business days of when the request is received. On March 21, having received no response from the Arena Authority to its March 8 request, LEO filed an appeal with the attorney general.

The next day, March 22, in an interview with The Courier-Journal, Host promised that the Arena Authority would act as a public agency in complying with open-records and open-meetings laws.

But at the time he made those remarks, the Authority’s attorney, Mark Sommers of Greenbaum, Doll, & McDonald, was preparing a response to LEO and the attorney general arguing that the Arena Authority was not a public agency and, therefore, did not have to provide the documents requested by LEO.

Sommers’ response was dated March 28. Among other things, he said, “To my knowledge, the Louisville Arena Authority Inc., has not ever been declared a ‘public agency’; rather, quite the contrary …”
However, the attorney general’s office refuted the Arena Authority’s claims and ruled that it is, indeed, a public agency and, therefore, had violated the Open Records Law by not providing the information requested by LEO on March 8.

On Monday, LEO repeated its March 8 request to the Arena Authority, which must either provide the information or take its case to Circuit Court.

By dragging its feet, the Arena Authority already has bought itself a lot of time. If the Authority — Host, really, since he runs the Authority with an iron fist — can stall until after the site selection is final, then it will be too late for the Metro Council to act on whatever new information may be found in the documents requested by LEO.
Only in Host’s world is this transparency.

Host is trying to close the deal before the Arena Authority has to comply with LEO’s open records request. Earlier on the day that Host appeared before the Metro Council, the Arena Authority voted 14 to 1 in favor of the LG&E site. (The only dissenter, Neville Blakemore III, had the guts to say he couldn’t vote for the site without knowing why U of L refused to remain neutral on the site selection.)

“The longer we delay the decision, the more time and cost is added,” said Host, driving the cattle so hard you could hear the moos.

The Metro Council, which must approve the $356 million bond issue necessary to finance the arena, apparently is Host’s last hurdle. The Council indicated it will have several more hearings before making its decision.  

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