Glendale council’s only meetings on Coyotes deal have been behind closed doors, to evade public meetings law

There hasn’t been much news about the latest prospective Phoenix Coyotes buyers since they emerged two weeks ago, and now it’s clear why: All the discussions between them and the Glendale city council are taking place behind closed doors.

Glendale City Council members maneuvered around the state’s Open Meeting Law last month when they met privately with National Hockey League executives and potential buyers of the Phoenix Coyotes, who outlined their desire to use and manage Arena…

The four back-to-back private meetings on May 28 included one, two or three council members.

The number of elected officials during the serial briefings was important.

If four of the seven council members had attended the same meeting, the Open Meeting Law would have required the meeting to be conducted in public.

Glendale Mayor Jerry Weiers, who previously said to the NHL that “Glendale is not your cash register,” insists that the meetings were the only way to keep council members in the loop without having a quorum, which would have required an open meeting. What’s so bad about an open meeting he didn’t say, but presumably the new owners wouldn’t agree to talk to the council in public, and if Weiers had met with them and then relayed the information to the council in an open meeting … they would have taken their pucks and gone home or something?

Anyway, the time for open meetings would appear to be now, since the council has set a deadline of the end of the month to decide on whether it will be the NHL’s cash register it will agree to a series of lease breaks that could end up amounting to $15 million a year in city subsidies to the team. The Glendale council has two regular meetings left this month, one of them tonight, plus one special meeting on Friday. But unless it’s masquerading as a liquor license for Vinnie & Joe’s Place, the Coyotes lease deal doesn’t appear to be on the agenda.

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13 comments on “Glendale council’s only meetings on Coyotes deal have been behind closed doors, to evade public meetings law

  1. I’ve seen several references to “Workshops” that appear to be closed door with a quorum of council members. Anyone know how that isn’t applicable to the Open Meeting Law ?

  2. The last bunch of idiots who ran (sort of) the city had Beasley (former city manager – now retired. Like the idiot Mayor, Like half the councillors… sense a pattern?) meet with the then-prospective owners precisely for this reason… it didn’t trigger the open meeting provisions. Beasley then gave away the farm and told (!!!) the elected representatives of the people that they had to approve his deal.

    I can’t believe the new councillors would be stupid enough to agree to pay the NHL to operate a team in the building they built for them. But then again, I couldn’t believe the last bunch were stupid enough to do that and they certainly proved to be well beyond that particular stupidity benchmark.

  3. Glendale has a pretty solid record of giving away the store (including the cash register), so the league (and prospective owners) would be damned fools not to keep mining these rubes for whatever they can get. After all, this is a city that believes you can turn a liability into an asset by throwing more money at it. My prediction: another hundred million down the drain for 5 more years of hockey.

  4. For pete’s sake, you can’t screw Joe Taxpayer out in the open!

    Subsidized hockey in the middle of a desert seems like a nice fit to me.

  5. Apparently, Piggy, you can.

    Just look at the 40 or so stadium deals signed in the last 15 years. It’s pretty open. And it’s definitely a hard screwing for the taxpayer. Practically every time.

  6. Can someone give me some context on the Glendale thing? Why exactly is the City Council SO insistent in keeping this team that no one wants? I understand why the NHL wants the team there. I don’t quite understand why the these elected officials would be willing to risk their jobs over keeping this team? IT does not really seem like the voters will punish them for letting the team go. Am I missing something?

  7. mv, what I think you’re missing is that politicians never like to admit their mistakes. They used the last thing they did as a stepping-stone to their next job.

    All Glendale needs is a couple minor adjustments, and they’ll be back in the black!

    That’s what the pols will tell you. They didn’t miss by much. We can fix this. Just a little flourish, things will be great.

    Example: There’s active talk that KJ will use the Sacramento Kings story as a stepping stone to the governor’s office. It’s already a smashing success (never mind that the EIR is still a year from completion).

  8. MV:

    What Mike says is true, even though much of the council were not in office when the original mistakes were made.

    Glendale is on the hook for construction bond (I think around $6m p/a) and at least some operating expenses whether the hockey team is there or not. Operating expenses drop dramatically on a building that is empty (or less used if 50 hockey dates are open). The real question is, can they earn some “net” money from the hockey team if they subsidize it’s operation?

    It’s difficult to get ‘real’ numbers. But some ballpark figures for operating expenses “with” the team would be about $8-10m all in. KC operates a similar arena without an NHL tenant and it’s operating expenses are dramatically lower (as I recall, somewhere around $2-3m… making ice in the desert is expensive). Some costs like security, maintenance & ops staff are largely fixed, of course.

    Given that the Coyotes have never paid the city more than $4.5m in any year, and that the average they pay the city has been under $2.5m for use of the building, the answer to the “subsidy provides net return” question would seem to be no… even if the amount of the subsidy is $0.

    The city appears to lose more money with the team playing (because of higher operating costs), than they would with an empty building… even without granting them any subsidy.

    Some have suggested the concern is loss of revenue at Westgate itself that lead the city to pay the Coyotes to play (they paid the NHL $25m p/a for two seasons to keep the club in town! And closed libraries and laid off police). That argument doesn’t wash, however.

    Even if the Coyotes could sell 15,000 tickets per game (which they can’t – don’t believe the NHL’s announced sales for a second) and every person who attended also spent $100 at Westgate every time, AND the city imposed a 10% levy on all Westgate sales… none of which are very likely… the city would still see only about $6m in net revenue. Not enough to pay the increased operating costs incurred by having the club play, let alone actually earn enough to pay the subsidy.

    There are lots of NHL markets where the economic benefit is tenuous (or non-existent). In Glendale, it’s an unmitigated economic disaster. The general fund has been paying for this building more or less since the beginning. It will continue to do so. The only real question is whether or not these rubes will also raid it to pay the NHL $15m a year to play in the building the city is also paying about $15m a year in amortz and ops costs to run.

    It would not be a hard decision for me. But apparently it is for them.

    The “pro subsidy” crowd tend to focus on perceived economic loss if they team leaves. In fact, the losses should be cut if the team goes – even if we assume that nothing will replace the 50 open dates the Coyotes used (which is the worst case scenario).

    If you replaced even ten of those dates with concerts, NCAA BBall or what have you, the city could easily be earning more than they would with a full season of Coyotes hockey.

  9. Excellent analysis John! (Oh and you too as always Neil – *fist bump*)

    What gets me is that someone thought it was a good idea to have an NHL team be the anchor for a shopping center. If the Coyotes played 60 dates a year (provided they went all the way), that still leaves 300 days that Westgate is twiddling their thumbs. Just silly.

    Westgate is already in bankruptcy protection, and I don’t see the mall’s fortunes reversing. Even if the Coyotes sold-out every game that’s a bump for 1/6 of the year and that’s a bad ratio for any business to rely upon.

    Time for Glendale to pursue an AHL or ECHL team and prove they can support hockey, much like Winnipeg did for 15 years. The NHL is a premium league.

  10. Dave,

    Bang on analysis yourself. I wondered in another post why Glendale couldn’t get $1M a season from someone who will be responsible for staging concerts and other events, maybe an ECHL/AHL franchise and some other minor pro league (NLL, Arena Football, whatever).

    There has to be some other solution that council isn’t even considering that could ensure something is happening in the area . . . without having to spend $25M a year in subsidies.

    Maybe if council explored these options they could manufacture some leverage against the NHL.

  11. Oops Westgate is not in bankruptcy protection — it’s in foreclosure. My bad.

    Either way, both Westgate Shopping Center and the arena are White Elephants in my opinion (probably the first ever co-dependent White Elephants in history!).

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