Tennessee Star Sr. Reporter Laura Baigert Follows the Money in the Case of Randy Boyd Development in Knoxville

Tennessee Star Sr. Reporter Laura Baigert Follows the Money in the Case of Randy Boyd Development in Knoxville


Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Star Senior Reporter Laura Baigert to the newsmakers line to discuss following the money in regards to legislation that conspicuously supports the inadvertent taxpayer-funded Randy Boyd development in Knoxville.

Leahy: Joining us on the newsmaker line our lead reporter on Capitol Hill for The Tennessee Star Laura Baigert. Good morning, Laura.

Baigert: Good morning, Michael. How are you?

Leahy: I’m great. As always you’re breaking news left and right. You had this very interesting article the other day that talked about five sponsors of a bill enabling Randy Boyd’s taxpayer-funded baseball stadium in Knoxville. They received more than 90,000 campaign funds from individuals with ties to the project. What on earth is going on here Laura?

Baigert: That’s a good question. And you know for the folks who think that only swamp lies in Washington, I think that they could see that it’s going on here too. I mean one of the first things we always ask is or say is to follow the money. And it’s hard to just ignore how much money came from the same individuals repeatedly to the same people. It can’t be a coincidence that the same group is giving to all of these people who just end up as sponsors on the bill.

Leahy: So let me lay this framework out here and it’s in your story. I’ll read it and then kind of get your reaction to it. So, Randy Boyd is the owner of the Tennessee Smokies minor league baseball team was currently playing at Smokies Park in Sevier County. You can see it I think as you’re driving up to Sevierville on Highway 40. The team previously known as The Knocks was owned by the Haslam family until 2013. I think it’s a Class A minor league baseball team.

They’ve moved from Knoxville in 2000. Randy Boyd’s contract with Smokies Park expires at the end of 2024. Boyd is currently the executive chairman of Radio Systems Corporation, the company founded that includes Pet Safe and Invisible Friends Brands. And he sold the company in 2020. It has annual sales of well over $300 million. You made a boatload on that and congratulations to him for that. He served as commissioner of Economic and Community Development and ran for governor in 2018 and lost. A very brutal and negative campaign.

Baigert: That he spent $19 million on.

Leahy: He spent a lot of money on it and lost but it was you know, the famous Randy Boyd attack. It’s Diane Black attacks Randy Boyd and Bill Lee slips in and wins the governorship. Boyd is currently the president of the University of Tennessee. Now they own property in Knoxville. What does this bill do and how does Randy Boyd benefit from this bill?

Baigert: Well, the first step of this activity of moving the team over to Knoxville out of Sevier County was to form a sports authority. And that had to be approved by both Knox County and the City of Knoxville. That passed by both legislative bodies in late December 2020. So the next step now is how do we fund it.

And this is a mixed-use development with residential apartments and probably restaurants and things like that and to emulate what happens in Chicago near Wrigley Field. So you have these rooftop viewing areas if you will and can visualize it. It’s a very nice development. There’s no doubt about that. But it’s mixed-use.

Randy Boyd is going to get the funding for the $142 million estimated to build the residential commercial property. But then the 65 million, that’s just the entry fee plus a contingency plus all the interest that’s going to be paid. You are probably talking $100 million by the time it’s all said and done. And it would be the taxpayer paying for the stadium and his team.

Leahy: Let me see if I understand the mechanism. So this bill would then give all of the state sales tax and local sales tax within a quarter-mile of the proposed stadium. All of those revenues would then go back to fund the stadium. Is that how it works?

Baigert: That’s correct. Thanks for connecting those dots. So right now there’s no sales tax revenue there.

Leahy: Nothing’s going on.

Baigert: Right. Nothing’s going on here. But what happens when the sales tax does not meet the requirements? There are $4 million a year in interest estimated in bond payments if this were to go through. And in fact, these estimates are only that these sales taxes will only accommodate a payback of 30 percent of that four million dollars. Where’s the rest of the money going to come from?

Leahy: Well, the other issue that I have with the sports story authorities and I just don’t think it’s on principle even if there would be an increase in sales tax because of the development, I don’t think on principle taking state funds and giving it to private entities for whatever purpose is a good policy no matter whether it’s coming from sales tax increases or what. I don’t think that’s just good public policy. It looks to me like insider dealing. that’s my view. What are your thoughts on that?

Baigert: Oh, agreed. Insider dealing one. If it were so profitable how come Randy Boyd can raise 142 million dollars for the mixed-use part, but not for the stadium?

Leahy: We need to get them in here and talk about that.

Baigert: That would be great. The other thing is where in the constitution does it say that we should be funding things like this in the first place? We’ve seen in Nashville what a disaster it’s been when you get a sports authority that there they are set up as a private entity. You can’t look at their books. They do whatever they want with the money.

If you remember when we had the NFL draft in Nashville, there was so much money spent on extra police. And the sports authority can decide whether they want to or not pay for the police. And yet they reap all the profits but they don’t have to have the expenses. They never set up these sports authorities to carry their own weight.

Leahy: Yeah, exactly.

Baigert: Zero accountability. It’s like another story that you’ve been covering in The Tennessee Star with the oversight board where these unelected people have no responsibility and no accountability to the people.

Leahy: So my question on this is and this is what we want to ask Randy Boyd. It’s a little bit of conflict of interest here in the sense that he’s the president of the University of Tennessee and he’s going to benefit from taxpayer money. Now granted it increases sales taxes around the proposed stadium, but he’s going to benefit fit from it. And I just think that’s fundamentally morally wrong. That’s my view on it.

Baigert: And this isn’t the first time. Two years ago we had a bill sponsored by then State Rep. Eddie Smith that would have put money to set up a transit improvement district so that passenger trains could come from the Alcoa-Maryville area up to this old city area right where all of Randy Boyd’s property is for people to come into the UT game supposedly.

And so that would have been set up as a district that would have had a special tax rate to charge people for how they wanted that district to look. And there would have been very strict rules about what lamppost you could have and what kind of flowers could be hanging outside. And setting up all this all of this district just to benefit his area.

Leahy: Yeah exactly. So here’s what is interesting to me. I really want to talk to Randy Boyd about this. And then my question to him is why don’t you just fund this privately. Why do the taxpayers have to fund it? I think that’s a legitimate question. Don’t you?

Baigert: Yes. Absolutely legitimate question. It also raises a question like every time we venture into another one of these it backpedals into something else. So over there in Knoxville, they want a soccer team to be able to play in that and they’re all excited about it. We want to have a Knoxville soccer team and somebody already is looking at expansion and all of that. And those are some of the people who contributed to the five legislators sponsoring the bill. Yet in Nashville, we have to have a separate stadium.

Leahy: It’s crazy. Laura Baigert, will you keep us updated on what happens with this bill? I hope it doesn’t make it out of committee but we’ll see.

Baigert: And the way it’s scheduled for committee is very very interesting there too because it’s going directly in the House to a finance subcommittee. Why it’s not being considered in the local government and state government or something along those lines is very interesting.

Leahy: Well, I’m on the record Laura saying, this is a bad bill, and we shouldn’t pass it. But we’ll see. Get some of the folks that are sponsoring it on here to talk about it Laura Baigert. Thanks so much for joining us today. Keep up the great investigative work.

Baigert: Have a great day.

Listen to the full third hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio









The Tennessee Star Sr. Reporter Laura Baigert Gives First Hand Account of Trump Rally Held Wednesday Afternoon in Washington

The Tennessee Star Sr. Reporter Laura Baigert Gives First Hand Account of Trump Rally Held Wednesday Afternoon in Washington


Live from Music Row Thursday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Tennessee Star Senior Reporter Laura Baigert to the newsmakers line to describe what she experienced on the ground at Wednesday’s Trump rally in Washington.

Leahy: We’re joined now on the line by Laura Baigert of the Tennessee Star who stayed in D.C.  Welcome to the Tennessee Star Report. Tell us your experience at the rally and subsequently. Good morning Laura.

Baigert: Good morning, Michael. Good morning, Carol. It’s good to hear your voices.

Swain: Good morning.

Leahy: So tell us about the rally and what you saw during the rally and after.

Baigert: We left our hotel, about a little after 7:00 a.m., and took the subway up to the Ellipse Park area. The park itself was closed off and you have to go through secret service, but we stood in a large field like outside of that fenced-in area where there was a monitor there. When we first got there there were people but within a very short period of time this field and everywhere around that we could see, no one could move. We were just stuck there like a Times Square type of New Year’s Eve event. It’s hard to describe.

Those of you who have been to these kinds of rallies know. But if you haven’t been to one, there is love and camaraderie. Everybody had signs and flags. And it was just great. And then, you know people were cheering and chanting USA. Then the speakers came out. Very calm, peaceful, and very very cold. We stood there for more than an hour waiting for the President to come out.

Leahy: He gave a speech and what was your reaction to that speech?

Baigert: Honestly, I think people thought it went a little too long and we were freezing. And we were probably hoping for a little bit more action and that we’ve done the talking and so forth. But we were hoping for something more definitive. But course, you know, we love our President. And so everybody was enthralled to have him out there. And he spoke for more than an hour. So that was a pretty impressive thing for him to come out like that and to spend that much time there. And then he said let’s walk together down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol.

Leahy: CNN is reporting that he incited violence. Did you hear him incite any violence?

Baigert: No. Not even close to anything like that. He never said anything that was like that or that would even imply something like that unless you were trying to read into something. Not even that. I don’t know how anybody could say something like that.

Swain: Laura, I noticed that he actually said we were going to walk peacefully to the Capitol.

Baigert: Peacefully. And walk together. It was a walk. It wasn’t like we were going to storm down there. He didn’t say anything like that.

Leahy: So how long did it take you to walk from the the mall down to the Capitol? And what did you see? And when did you first learn that the Capitol had been breached?

Baigert: Okay, so it probably took more than half an hour. We walked down Constitution Avenue because we were kind of in the middle of the field. So when you came out of the field you landed right on Constitution Avenue. And as we crossed all of the cross streets we could see as many people walking on Pennsylvania Avenue and then on the other parallel street in the other direction.

We were probably 20 people wide walking and it probably took more than a half an hour to get from the park to the Capitol. And I can walk really fast. I walk five to six miles a day. So but you could not move because there were so many people. And people were chanting USA. And you know, just again everybody being very kind to each other and no problems along the way. I will say there were people who a couple of times chanted the F expletive Antifa.

Then we got over to the Capitol and there were so many people that were outside the circle around it that you didn’t really even know what was going on. By the time we got there, there were people on the steps of the Capitol. But nobody really thought anything of it. And then after we got closer into that inner circle and we could see that there was some smoke on the balcony and we couldn’t really tell what was happening.

A metro police officer told us, said I would advise you not to go there, over there. And he said there’s trouble And I said, well, what do you mean by trouble? He said, well citizens. And I said but what kind of citizens what do you mean? And he wouldn’t elaborate on anything. So we walked over just to see more of what was happening and we could see smoke bombs going off and tear gas. The fire extinguishers were being sprayed, but I think that was by protesters.

Part of the reason it looked so strange was that they were setting up for the inauguration. And that’s why the fencing was up because they’re putting all the stuff out there for that. So there were people calling with a bullhorn saying move forward or else they’re going to push us out of here and come up onto the bleachers.

I mean, this is somebody with a bullhorn and the only person you could hear and that’s all they were saying was move forward, move forward. Nobody was telling anybody to go into the building or breach the building. And I would have to say that anybody who was over there was already there and got into the building was already there and had that planned much earlier. Because you could not have walked from where we were to get over there in that amount of time.

Leahy: So the people in the front, were they Trump supporters? There have been some reports that they were Antifa wearing Trump gear. Do you have any indication one way or the other as to who the people at the Capitol were?

Baigert: All I’ve seen is what’s been on social media. So you know, I don’t put any faith or stock in that. There was someone reporting from The Blaze last night. There were many people on the ground from Blaze TV that were interviewing people on that. They were Trump supporters. But the thing that you need to understand is that we have people with us who were here in 2010 during the Tea Party and Glenn Beck’s rallies and there were like a million people here.

And they said there was every bit as many people there and maybe more yesterday. How many people went into the building? 20 or 30? This is not the typical Trump supporter. None of us would sanction this. I think it’s just starting to be resonating with us this morning, as we think about it, is that this is the people’s House. As soon as we start going down the path of we have no right to be there to see our elected officials doing the people’s work we have born into the wrong argument here.

And this is much different than what happened over the summer where private property was destroyed. Somebody was killed yesterday. Did we riot? Burn anything down? Or damage anything because she was killed? That’s one of us. And another really disturbing thing is the Democrats and many of the Republicans went and sanctioned and endorsed this kind of behavior with breaching the Capitol when Kavanaugh was being sworn in.

Leahy: That’s a very very good point. Laura Baigert, thanks so much. And be safe coming back here to Nashville. We really appreciate your report.

Listen to the full second hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Trump Rally” by Elvert Barnes. CC BY-SA 2.0.