When the Charlotte city council met on January 14 to approve subsidies to the Carolina Panthers for renovations to their privately owned stadium, members of the public were barred from attending, leading to a lawsuit for violating the state’s open meetings law. The only people allowed in the room were elected officials — oh, and one more person, according to Charlotte NPR station WFAE:
Generally “closed” means “closed,” because the council needs privacy to work out its negotiating strategy and terms, says City Attorney Bob Hagemann, because “you do not want to have those kinds of conversations in front of the other party to the negotiation.”
You certainly wouldn’t want to have them in front of the company’s CEO. . . right?
But that’s exactly what the city did with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. He sat in on two of the four closed sessions council held to discuss using tax dollars for Panthers’ stadium renovations. Minutes from those meetings show council members were fine with the arrangement. They still are.
“I don’t know if it was appropriate or not, but it was important to him,” says Councilman Andy Dulin. “It must have been of importance because he did show up – you know that put an exclamation point on the seriousness of the negotiations that some might not have done. I appreciated him being there.”
Councilman James Mitchell also appreciated Richardson coming and asking directly for the money: “I think that’s what Jerry wanted. I think Jerry wanted the council to know why he was doing this.”
And what did Jerry have to say during his private audience with council members? Fortunately, the council at least took minutes, which show that Richardson touted how he’d “gone to bat for the city” by getting the NFL to move its opening day to make way for the Democratic National Convention, plus talked about how he quit the NFL in a salary dispute. (Because he’s a hardball negotiator, see?) City attorney Bob Hagemann and deputy city manager Ron Kimble also warned that the Panthers were “ripe for courting” by Los Angeles.
As Deadspin remarks: “The system, every system, is rigged in the favor of the powerful; the council voted 7-2 in favor of funding the stadium.” Some are more rigged than others, though. The open-meetings case is expected to have its first hearing any day now; I can’t be the only one who can’t wait to see how this plays out.