An official in Bexar County, which includes San Antonio, has asked the county district attorney to look into the legality of Major League Soccer encouraging the county to apply for an expansion team and purchase a stadium in light of the Crew's potential move to Austin, Texas.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff wrote a letter to MLS late last week questioning the fairness of the league's expansion process. San Antonio was one of 12 cities to submit an application to the league in February for one of four expansion franchises.
Wolff said he and County Manager David Smith traveled to New York to meet with MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott in November 2015 and expressed their intentions to buy Toyota Field, home to San Antonio's United Soccer League franchise, and apply for expansion. Bexar County and the city of San Antonio each contributed $9 million of public money for the stadium purchase.
"He encouraged us to go ahead and do that," Wolff said of Abbott. "He made it clear that if Austin filed, it was either going to be Austin or us. Of course, Austin never filed."
Wolff said he was surprised to learn of the league's contact with Austin earlier in 2017 and of a clause in Crew investor-operator Anthony Precourt's purchase agreement of the team in 2013 that allowed for a future move to Austin. Precourt might move the team after the 2018 season.
In Bexar County, the county judge presides over the five-member Commissioners Court — one county judge, four commissioners — that acts as the county's governing body.
"First, I'd like to get all this and air it out so that everybody will know what happened here," Wolff said. "That's my clear objective, and I think that's going to happen."
In a statement, MLS acknowledged it had received Wolff's letter but disagreed with a key claim.
"We are in the process of reviewing the letter and preparing a formal response," the statement read. "Although that review is not yet complete, we strongly disagree with Judge Wolff's assertion that we misled either him or any public official about the prospects for San Antonio acquiring an MLS expansion team."
Wolff met several times last week with District Attorney Nico LaHood, whose office serves as the civil representative for Bexar County in addition to prosecuting cases in the county.
LaHood said Monday he did not want to commit to a specific timeline or deadline for his office's investigation.
"We're gonna look into the situation so we can give (the county) good, honest, consistent ethical and legal advice on what to do going forward, if there's anything to do going forward," LaHood said. "I will tell you this, I'm not looking to waste any time. We'll make an assessment once we get all the facts and then we'll tell them if there's a viable cause of action or not and they can make a decision on what they want to do."
The Austin City Council is expected to vote at its Nov. 9 meeting on a resolution instructing the city manager to identify city-owned sites within the urban core that might work for a soccer stadium and sites outside the urban core for a practice facility that could "serve the Columbus Crew and the surrounding community."