Business · Fresno

Thin Ice: Fresno’s Granite Park suit becomes leverage in unpaid ice rink discrimination settlement

Could a legal settlement over Fresno’s woebegone Granite Park be a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul?”

That’s the current line of argument in a legal dispute between Fresno residents and the Central Valley Community Sports Foundation, operator of the city-owned Granite Park and privately-held Gateway Ice Center.

Last April, the foundation, led by developer Terance Frazier and once featured former Rep. TJ Cox (D–Fresno) as its treasurer, settled a lawsuit with a pair of disabled Fresno girls over allegations of discrimination.

Two minors – 16-year-old amputee Megan McKeon and 7-year-old Laila Neal, who has cerebral palsy – filed a lawsuit against CVCSF, its executive director Jeff Blair, and Gateway Ice Center for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and California’s Jesse M. Unruh Civil Rights Act by barring them from using the ice skating facility during different birthday parties in 2016 and 2017.

Both were told they would have to use the facility during specific times when wheelchairs were allowed on the ice.

The settlement agreement entitled McKeon and Neal to a payout of $125,000 in two installments. The first, a $10,000 payment, would be due on July 2 and was paid by the foundation on-time.

The second installment of $115,000, McKeon and Neal’s attorney Rachelle Golden wrote, didn’t arrive on Dec. 18, 2020 as contractually agreed.

“As of the filing of this Petition, Defendants have not paid Plaintiffs the remaining settlement amount of $115,000,” Golden said in a filing in January.

The two sides have spent much of 2021 locked in a bitter dispute over whether the Federal court retained jurisdiction over the settlement after it was entered and the case closed or whether Golden would have to initiate a new suit on behalf of her clients to enforce the settlement agreement.

In a filing introduced on July 7, Golden alleges that the Frazier-led nonprofit “never had any intention of satisfying their settlement obligations.”

“If Defendants had intended to pay, they would not be fighting so hard to make Plaintiffs file yet another lawsuit and waste more judicial resources to enforce the settlement terms and judgment that were previously entered into,” she added.

During a meet and confer session to resolve the dispute over the unpaid $115,000, Golden told Federal Magistrate Judge Barbara McAuliffe that “payment remained outstanding and was contingent upon the outcome of a dispute between Defendant Central Valley Community Sports Foundation and the City of Fresno.”

And so we return to that initial question.

Frazier, who is the fiancée of Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria, has spent much of the past year attempting to negotiate a settlement with the City of Fresno over a different Federal suit tied to Granite Park.

The suit alleged defamation over a scathing audit report compiled by city officials released to the public, retaliation, discrimination, breach of contract, and breaching good faith and fair dealings.

The genesis of the controversy dates back to an August 2018 request from Frazier to double his $150,000 annual operating subsidy for the city-owned, privately-operated park.

The request prompted City officials to order the audit which found glaring issues with operations and lack of internal financial controls.

Last April, Fresno officials appeared to be near a new agreement that would see the CVCSF organization be replaced with a new nonprofit entity named “Granite Park Sports Complex,” also headed by Frazier.

The deal was nixed just as the coronavirus pandemic set-in.

Four months later, Frazier filed the Federal suit against the city and its highest-ranking officials.

City leaders and Frazier neared another deal that would see taxpayers pay out $4.3 million, through a combination of immediate cash payment and fronting billboard advertising revenue, in late June.

That deal was pulled from consideration during the June 24 Fresno City Council meeting, one day after Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp announced her office was probing allegations that a majority of the body violated the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act related to dealings over Granite Park.

Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.