Editorial: Oxford, Bailey bail out of Brunswick, leave behind a red herring
There's no denying the decision by criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, his investors and Oxford Aviation to abandon efforts to establish an aircraft refurbishing business as part of the reuse of Brunswick Naval Air Station leaves base redevelopers with one less option.
But don't be misled by attempts by Bailey or the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority to blame the decision on comments made by two Brunswick town councilors and a series of stories published in The Forecaster. The councilors and those stories raised questions about Oxford Aviation's qualifications, its political connections, its past performance and its involvement in Bailey's proposal. They are questions every Brunswick resident, let alone members of the MRRA and Town Council, should have asked.
Bailey (who has refused to talk to The Forecaster), Oxford Aviation President James Horowitz and MRRA Executive Director Steve Levesque can try to spin this setback all they want. But their criticism of town officials and The Forecaster is a red herring. It's easier to claim Brunswick is anti-business than to admit a proposal can't stand the necessary scrutiny before town councilors endorse a $400,000 grant request and before the MRRA turns over a valuable piece of real estate to a pie-in-the-sky business deal.
Bailey's investors supposedly turned and ran at the mere hint of skepticism in The Forecaster from Councilors Ben Tucker and Margo Knight – both of whom, incidentally, have supported every request for town investment in Brunswick's Maine Street Station development (so much for being anti-business). Is it possible Bailey's investors had been kept in the dark about the baggage attached to Oxford? And how would they have reacted if the MRRA had actually performed a thorough financial analysis of Bailey's proposal?
But the MRRA has a questionable record with due diligence, based on last year's negotiations with Oxford Aviation. The board practically gave the company the keys to BNAS before The Forecaster's Steve Mistler did the job the MRRA should have done by digging into and documenting Oxford's history of broken promises and less-than-stellar job creation elsewhere in Maine.
Overall, the MRRA has done a good job, and Levesque has said it is still talking to other companies about doing business at BNAS. But it got seduced by Oxford Aviation and the larger-than-life Francis L. Bailey Jr. (who, besides defending O.J. Simpson, Dr. Sam Sheppard and Patty Hearst, was disbarred in 2001 for attorney misconduct).
Now it's the morning after and time for the MRRA to take a good, long look in the mirror and recognize it must do a better job with those other companies than it did with Oxford and Bailey to avoid being seduced again.