In January, Charlotte City Council agreed in a closed session to support a tax increase that would pay for renovations at Bank of America Stadium.
On Tuesday, a lawyer filed suit on behalf of four local journalists, who claim that the agreement violates North Carolina’s open meetings law.
Attorney Paul Whitfield has requested on behalf of his clients that the city be cited for contempt of court and fined at least $1.4 million, according to Gary L. Wright and Steve Lyttle of the Charlotte Observer. Whitfield’s filing explains that, nearly 40 years ago, a judge ordered City Council and other local public bodies to conduct such negotiations through open meetings, not closed sessions.
“A permanent injunction is permanent,” Whitfield said in a statement issued on behalf of his clients. “We contend the city violated Judge Snepp’s injunction and the N.C. Open Meetings Law with closed discussions and a secret tax vote. The mayor and city council have grown increasingly arrogant in handling public business behind closed doors. They now seek a major tax hike as if it were some private matter.”
The city obviously disagrees with the claim. “The North Carolina Open Meetings law authorizes closed sessions to discuss economic development transactions with specific businesses, including consideration of incentives that may be offered,” City Attorney Bob Hagemann said. “That’s what the City Council has done in an effort to ensure that the Carolina Panthers remain in Charlotte.”
Council member Beth Pickering explained that the negotiations with the team remained private because the team is “important” to the city and open negotiations may have resulted in “misimpressions.”
Frankly, that sounds a lot like what the lawyers would call an “admission.”