4 days, 4 stories...
The chief executive of the Circuit of the Americas said he was “not at liberty” to disclose which governmental organization had made a “verbal application” to Formula One to bring a yearly auto race to this city.
“I wasn't here, so I don't know that,” Jason Dial told reporters when pressed on the issue. Just prior to that, he had said, “What the statute states is it's an application, it can be verbal or written. And in this case, it was obviously verbal.”
The track's chairman and major investor, Bobby Epstein, made a similar claim to KXAN-TV on Monday. The “verbal application” claims follow a San Antonio Express-News story that raised questions about whether that application was ever completed. Failure to do so would make Formula One ineligible for state funding, Attorney General Greg Abbott ruled in 2012.
The state has provided $50 million to support the two races held so far. The subsidies are expected to total $250 million over a decade. The next U.S. Grand Prix is scheduled for Nov. 2.
Under state law, to qualify for funding, the application to Formula One could come only from one of three places: the city of Austin, Travis County or the Circuit Events Local Organizing Committee.
But statements by Austin city officials to the City Council in the first briefing on Formula One in June 2011 may complicate claims that a verbal application was made.
The briefing came after Bernie Ecclestone, CEO of Formula One Management Ltd., sent a letter dated May 11, 2011, that said Austin had been selected on the basis of an application. He did not identify who made the application.
At that briefing, city officials repeatedly said Austin had no involvement in that application process, archived video shows.
“In 2010, the Texas comptroller, the governor's office and Full Throttle Productions expressed an interest to host the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix in Texas,” said Rodney Gonzales, deputy director of the city's Economic Growth and Redevelopment Services. “The city of Austin was not a part of the bid process.”
Ecclestone's letter also predated the creation of CELOC, which was incorporated May 31, 2011, according to Secretary of State records. And Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe said the county never submitted an application.
Ecclestone wrote another letter, dated July 10, 2012, which stated that CELOC had submitted an application to bring the racing series to Austin, which Formula One had approved. CELOC used that letter in its application for the first $25 million installment in state funding in 2012 as proof it had filed the application.
But Ecclestone's letter was disputed by former CELOC board member Stephanie Richmond, who said in a sworn affidavit that CELOC had never filed an application with Formula One.
She was one of two board members who stepped down from the CELOC board, following the group's application to the comptroller's office.
The second, Anne Smalling, wrote in her resignation letter that she was “troubled” by claims in Ecclestone's 2012 letter.
Additionally, CELOC board agendas and minutes, obtained under the state's open-records act, show that there was never a vote to submit an application to Formula One or even discussion about it.