Whether it’s dubbed chutzpah, arrogance, or flat-out stupidity, the decision of a member of Charlotte City Council to conduct a private meeting with Panthers president Danny Morrison regarding the proposed upgrades to Bank of America Stadium will raise eyebrows.
The move, as reported by WSOC-TV, comes only days after a lawsuit was filed against City Council for striking the initial deal with Panthers owner Jerry Richardson in a private meeting, with no public input from taxpayers.
“I think in the very beginning when you do the negotiations . . . and you talk about how do you win . . . sometimes your team needs to get together and huddle. This was a huddle in preparation to get a victory in Raleigh,” Councilman James Mitchell said.
He has a point, but these aren’t private business dealings. Public bodies generally must transact business in the public eye. While exceptions exist, decisions can’t be made in secret.
Mitchell’s meeting with Morrison suggests that there have been other secret meetings, communications, and/or decisions, especially since other city officials who aren’t members of City Council attended the Mitchell-Morrison strategy session. Of course, it’s possible that Mitchell decided on his own, without the input of any other members of City Council, that he’d meet privately with Morrison and certain city officials to formulate strategy for getting whatever approvals are needed from the North Carolina Legislature. Still, one member of City Council acting without approval of the body would create a separate problem.
So either City Council secretly authorized Mitchell to formulate strategy with the Panthers, or Mitchell decided to pull an Al Haig.
The people who sued City Council already have objected to the move.
“The taste this leaves in the public’s mouth is a very sour and bitter one,” said Wayne Powers, one of the plaintiffs in the case. “I’m shocked because it’s flying in the face of our challenge to the illegality of their closed door policy.”
“This is part of the pattern,” attorney Paul Whitfield said. “This is part of the paradigm — ‘We’ll do business in private.’”
While many public bodies would love to get things done that way, the law generally requires transparency. The only thing transparent here seems to be the effort of City Council to push this deal through with little or no public scrutiny.