Super Bowl contract released by Sonoma County Tourism Bureau
The Sonoma County Tourism Bureau released a copy of its contract with Super Bowl organizers as part of a settlement with the First Amendment Coalition, which sued the agency after it withheld the document from The Press Democrat and the nonprofit public interest group.
The Tourism Bureau also agreed to pay $10,300 for the coalition’s legal fees and other costs, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, which announced the settlement Tuesday.
The coalition filed the lawsuit last month in Sonoma County Superior Court, arguing the tourism agency violated state public records laws when it repeatedly refused to turn over a copy of its contract with the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee.
“I don’t believe they really ever had any legitimate grounds for withholding the contract,” Scheer said in an interview.
Tourism officials argued they were bound to a confidentiality agreement and could not release the document until they notified all involved parties.
“Sonoma County Tourism was obligated contractually to treat the contract as confidential information, and, in all likelihood, would have been sued by the NFL and the Host Committee if the contract had been turned over immediately in response to the initial request,” said Bill Arnone, an attorney representing the tourism agency.
Under the contract, the terms had to be kept secret “unless required by operation of law.”
Scheer said the agency had no right to withhold the information in the first place. He found the confidentiality agreement troubling, saying it unnecessarily pressures public officials to deny the public information without grounds and forces residents to sue to gain access to the records. However, he added, many citizens don’t always have the resources to pursue litigation.
“It’s the public’s job to assess and evaluate the performance of public officials that work for the people,” he said. “Unfortunately, the people can’t do what they’re supposed to do if they don’t have access.”
The 17-page contract lays out the terms of the relationship between Super Bowl organizers and three trade groups representing Sonoma County’s tourism and wine industries: the Tourism Bureau, Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Winegrowers. They joined forces to become an official partner with the Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, the regional nonprofit tasked with organizing the events leading up to the big game.
Under the contract, the Tourism Bureau agreed to pay $150,000 to the Host Committee. The figure was previously disclosed to The Press Democrat by the bureau’s president and CEO, Kenneth Fischang. Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Winegrowers each agreed to pay an additional $50,000, according to the contract. A quarter of the $250,000 sum was designated for the Legacy Grant Fund, a philanthropic initiative created by Super Bowl organizers.
The Sonoma County groups also pledged to provide $50,000 in credit at lodging and hospitality establishments “in and around Sonoma County” for Super Bowl 50 Host Committee events and NFL executive events, according to the contract.
Lastly, the three Sonoma County groups also agreed to donate “no less than” 1,000 cases of wine to be poured at the various private events. The actual number was not disclosed in the contract.
Overall, the three groups pledged nearly $1 million total in cash, wine and other services to the Super Bowl committee, Fischang said in a previous interview.