Wednesday, January 22, 2003

NFL says Bengals deserve more time to be competitive

Tagliabune asks county not to sue

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

SAN DIEGO - Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who has threatened to sue the Bengals and the NFL over the club's Paul Brown Stadium lease, received a letter Tuesday from NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue suggesting he reconsider possible legal action.

Mr. Portune and his attorney, Robert Furnier, say the Bengals have failed to live up to the lease by not doing everything possible to field a competitive team.

Mr. Portune has said poor attendance at Bengals games does not allow the county to get an adequate return on its investment in hotel, restaurant and other tourism dollars.

In his letter, Mr. Tagliabue referred to the hiring last week of Marvin Lewis as head coach.

"The Bengals are striving to turn around the team's performance, as recent developments confirm," Mr. Tagliabue wrote. "In my opinion, a constructive course would be to support and encourage their efforts in key areas, which will enhance the team's support among Bengals' fans and the business community rather than to publicly attack and possibly litigate the team.

"This latter approach would inevitably divert resources and impede rebuilding efforts.

"A stadium filled with enthusiastic Bengals fans will best serve the interests of both the Bengals and Hamilton County."

The letter encouraged Mr. Portune.

"I view (the letter) as a good-faith and coded reply," Mr. Portune said Tuesday. "Certainly, it is a reply that indicates the commissioner is hoping for an amicable resolution to these issues."

The last three Bengals home games this past season attracted the three smallest announced crowds in the 24 Bengals games played at the stadium since it opened in 2000.

The Bengals fired coach Dick LeBeau the day after finishing the season with a franchise worst 2-14 record - also the worst in the league in 2002.

Mr. Lewis has received unprecedented power from Bengals president Mike Brown to hire his staff - which Mr. Lewis announced Tuesday - and possibly to make player personnel decisions.

Mr. Portune said he would reply today to Mr. Tagliabue's letter.

Mr. Tagliabue, in San Diego for the Super Bowl, was not available for comment. His spokesman, Greg Aiello, verified the letter and said he had nothing to add.

"The letter speaks for itself," Mr. Aiello said.

Mr. Portune failed to get the support of the other two county commissioners on Dec. 27 to sue the Bengals over the stadium lease and is acting as a private citizen and Hamilton County taxpayer. The county entered into the lease on taxpayer-funded Paul Brown Stadium in 1997.

Mr. Portune cited the county's "looming fiscal crisis" and set a deadline of Jan. 27 to successfully resolve negotiations.

He said that he and his attorney would file a petition for discovery regarding financial documents.

Mr. Portune had wanted to meet with Mr. Tagliabue in San Diego, but, in his letter, Mr. Tagliabue said he would be unable to meet the week before the Super Bowl.

"The issues you wish to discuss are complex and certainly cannot be addressed in a meaningful way during Super Bowl week," Mr. Tagliabue wrote.


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