Charlotte stadium deal results in lawsuit

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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.”

28 responses to “Charlotte stadium deal results in lawsuit

  1. As a Ravens fan, I will always smile upon this sort of news and laugh. #WeDeservedATeamFirst.

    2 Super Bowls to zero for jags and panthers. Just saying.

  2. It’s a known fact that from Deleware all the way down to South Carolina is Redskins territory. Besides I’d rather watch RGIII on TV then to pay $ to see SCam play QB in person. #CarolinaisRedskinsTerritory

  3. Ive always liked Jerry Richardson..but he is coming off as a bully in this situation about wanting the city to pay for this..He wanted a NFL team here he needs to provide for himself..The fans pay enough..this will just add to it

  4. Beth Pickering explained that the negotiations with the team remained private because the team is “important” to the city

    I’m impressed by this woman’s reasoning- I know it was illegal, but it’s important, so that makes it OK!

  5. thesportsguy52 says:
    Apr 2, 2013 11:07 PM
    As a Ravens fan, I will always smile upon this sort of news and laugh. #WeDeservedATeamFirst.

    2 Super Bowls to zero for jags and panthers. Just saying.

    Your typical classy comment from “charm city”

  6. @thesportsguy52-that’s a lot of years of resentment for 2 expansion teams…Maybe you should direct your “hate” toward Indianapolis. I think they are the ones that took your team.

  7. Here come all the ignorant lawyer bashers. Read closely, this is a great service the lawyer is encouraging with this suit. Taxpayers should hear how their money is spent!

  8. What Ravens fan don’t know is that Modell fought in owners meetings to keep those 2 expansions team out of Baltimore as part of his plan to eventually move the Browns there. What a guy!

  9. Also, I go to the stadium twice a year and it does not need to be remodeled that bad..Jerry Richardson needs to focus on putting a winning product on the field instead of trying to keep up with the other owners in there spending contest..

  10. LOL at illogicalvoice!

    They’ve REMOVED seats from FedEx Field for the last 3 seasons because no one wants to see a pathetic,offensively named team toil in mediocrity.

  11. “…open negotiations may have resulted in ‘misimpressions.’”

    Oh, you mean, like, the people you purport to represent would have actually made up their own minds on the issue? Yeah, clearly we can’t have any of that going on. Regular people are far too unsophisticated to absorb and comprehend complex abstract theories like, erm, tax hikes.

    You work for the people, not the other way around. Remember that.

  12. logicalvoicesays says: Apr 2, 2013 11:08 PM

    It’s a known fact that from Deleware all the way down to South Carolina people know the Redskins Suck. Besides I’d rather watch Cam on TV then to pay $ to see RGlll play QB in person. #Redskinsfansmakemeblowchunks
    There. Fixed it for you.

  13. Vote of the mayor and all council members that voted to go to a closed foot session. Good for the people suing as this type of govt BS has to go.

  14. Dear billionaire NFL owners, the taxpayers are on to you.

    Do you really want to have to move your franchise to another city?

    Does that other city have the state of the art stadium you are looking for?

    Does it have a better fanbase to support your team?

    Do you think it will be any easier to convince the taxpayers in another city to fork over their money for your private welfare?

    I am going to guess that the answer to all of these questions is “No!”

    And you may well be able to buy the city council, but please don’t think for one moment that voters don’t know what you are up to.

    The jig up so just stop it, okay?

  15. Political scumbags giving millions to a billionaire who most likely has cut them side deals in some way.

    Of course they don’t want the transcript public, they’d all likely lose their jobs and possibly go to jail.

  16. Mr. Hagemann appears to be stretching the allowances made in the North Carolina Open Meetings law to the breaking point and beyond. While I’m not acquainted with the exact wording of the law, even if it “authorizes closed sessions to discuss economic development transactions with specific businesses, including consideration of incentives that may be offered,” I highly doubt it was ever intended to allow this kind of behavior. Typically, incentives used to entice businesses to move to or stay in a certain area include things such as rerouting traffic, utility discounts, and tax breaks. In this case, we’re talking about increasing taxes on the people in order to give a large amount of money to a private enterprise. That goes way beyond any normal incentive. It is public business, plain and simple.

    Clearly, the “misimpression” that Ms. Pickering was concerned about was that the council members and the team executives might hear quite a few people say rather resolutely that they were against the action. The council members would still be free to vote the same way, but the open nature of the meeting would ensure that more of the voters actually knew who their council representatives were and what they were up to. That fact might actually scare some of the council members into changing their minds, and those that didn’t could find themselves voted out of office. Clearly, the council members figure that doing all of this behind closed doors will make all of that less likely. They’re clearly betting that, in time, most people will forget about what happened, or at least forget who was involved. The really sad thing is, they’re probably right. How many people pay attention to the city council when there’s nothing controversial going on?

  17. The state of Minnesota approve e pull tabs to fund the states portion of of the new Vikings stadium ( to which Zygi Wilf is contributing $0.00 of his own actual money after the free money from the NFL, and stadium sponsors and ticket licensing). They only fell $35 million short for the first year. And this was also a back door deal that circumvented actual voting by the people who will now be paying a lot more for for Zygi’s money printing machine.

  18. It’s getting harder for teams to hold cities hostage as they begin to see there is no good, credible, money-making option to move the team to.

  19. These stadium deals with the NFL have to stop. The excuses why the public have to pay for new state-of-the-art stadiums have to stop. Why do my taxes always have to go up? I don’t get a discount to the game, and if I don’t go, and the game doesn’t sell out they won’t even show the game on tv. Why do we pay for these stadiums? Because the NFL and owners know that we love our team, and that is what they use to blackmail us with. Because they say they cannot compete with other teams?

    I call BS, the NFL is classified as a non-profit organization (google it) so they don’t pay taxes, and they share their profits with other organizations. I’m just sick of reading the same tactics and reasonings for why they need a new stadium. I bet they even threatened to move to LA too…

  20. As a secretary for a Local Board, you can go into Executive Session to discuss, but all voting must be done in the Public session. If they voted in Executive Session, then they did break the Open Meeting Law.

  21. Panther Season ticket owner here..

    First the stadium is in good shape – however – the improvements planned are good ones and not excessive at all. The sound and video boards are very dated and in some cases inoperable. Adding escalators so more people can get to their seats to enjoy a game a good thing. I don’t benefit from the planned improvements to the club seating as I am up in nose bleeds – but I do understand the business of catering to that group.

    With that said – I don’t think tax payers should foot the entire bill – but I do believe it is fair to share in the cost. The city has GREATLY benefited and will continue to benefit from not only the Panthers but just the fact they are an NFL city.

    Also – who is going to pay the court costs and this 1.4m fine if the city loses? Oh right the tax payers. Wonderful. Thank you lawyers and journalists with nothing better to do.

  22. The hate for this is interesting to me. Overlooked is the fact that the stadium was originally 100% privately financed, not one dollar coming from the city. The only incentive was a favorable land lease with the city. That’s it. Compare that to other stadiums where the city has footed 50% of the bill or more, and I don’t think it’s such a “raw deal” for the citizens as its been cast.

  23. I’ve been to this stadium 3 times in the past couple years. What needs renovating? It’s a very nice stadium.

  24. No public money for billionaire owned sports teams. The teams won’t open up the books, which would show amazing profits. Let them invest in their own business. NO MORE TAX DOLLARS.

  25. I see validity to both sides of this debate. Has the city benefited economically from the Panthers presence? Was (as firstvictory states) the stadium originally built without taxpayer $$? If the answer to these questions is yes, then I believe it’s fair to expect some investment by the city/state in order for the city to continue to benefit economically.

  26. Taxpayers should not pay for stadium renovation, upkeep or whatever else. They should just add a tax onto the ticket for any event it holds and also tax the businesses that benefit but not the average Joe that don’t care about stadium events. Why should everyone be taxed for the benefit of a few?

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