Someone wants Charlotte taxpayers out of talks with Major League - | WBTV Charlotte

Someone wants Charlotte taxpayers out of talks with Major League Soccer execs. But who?

(Source: WBTV/File) (Source: WBTV/File)

CHARLOTTE, NC (Katherine Peralta and Steve Harrison/The Charlotte Observer) - Amid a months-long debate on whether Charlotte taxpayer dollars should be used to finance a Major League Soccer stadium, the public is being left out of meetings that elected leaders are having with MLS officials. It’s not exactly clear who wants these discussions held behind closed doors, though.

MLS officials are scheduled to meet with elected officials next week in Charlotte as the city and county consider a contentious plan to use public funds to finance a $175 million MLS stadium. Elected officials say per the MLS’s request, if these meetings aren’t private, they won’t happen.

The MLS, however, denies having spoken with anyone in the city and county about the July 18 meeting agendas, and never asked that meetings be private.

Asked who requested private meetings, MLS4CLT, the group led by race track executive Marcus Smith, provided a statement that said the site visit was initiated by MLS4CLT, and that the group “has participated in several public hearings and remains committed to open discussion throughout this process.” The statement did not answer the Observer’s question.

In an email exchange obtained by the Observer Wednesday, some county commissioners said they are against private meetings. But Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio said the MLS has requested that the meetings be private – which would mean without the presence of taxpayers and the media.

“I have not been involved in any way in that schedule, what the meetings are, who I’m meeting with,” MLS President Mark Abbott said in a call with the Observer. “Who would we talk to about this? I didn’t talk to anybody at the county about this. That’s ridiculous.”

In a follow-up call to clarify who requested that the meetings be private, Diorio said: “That’s how it was represented to me. That’s all I’m going to comment on that.”

Charlotte is one of 12 cities vying for four MLS expansion franchises. MLS officials are scheduled to visit Cary on July 19.

With tens of millions of dollars in public money on the line, Republican commissioners began lobbying this week for any meeting with MLS executives to be public, and said MLS was trying to skirt the state’s Open Meeting Laws with the request.

Under state law, if a majority of council members or commissioners attend a meeting, it has to be open to the public. In other words, if more than four county commissioners attend, it is public, and if more than five council members attend, it is open to the public – taxpayers, media and residents.

“If MLS wants to talk to us about the use of public money, the public has a right to hear,” Republican Commissioner Jim Puckett wrote in an email. “In fact I am NOT paid to make their case to the public they are.”

Diorio said MLS officials are coming to Charlotte to do “some due diligence,” which includes meeting with elected officials. She added: “If we cannot accommodate their request that the meeting not be public then the meeting won’t be held.”

City spokeswoman Sandy D’Elosua said Wednesday afternoon that the city plans for the Tuesday meeting to be private. She said the city is still determining who will attend the meeting with Abbott and other MLS officials. D’Elosua could not be reached for additional comment.

The city has been willing to skirt the state’s open meetings laws in the past. Earlier this decade, a majority of council members toured the new football stadium of the New York Giants and Jets in New Jersey. That was before the city approved spending nearly $90 million to renovate Bank of America Stadium for the Carolina Panthers.

With the stadium tour a part of city business, some council members stepped out of the room periodically to ensure a majority was not in the room at the same time.

Republican City Council member Ed Driggs said he’s OK with some council members and staff members meeting with MLS in private.

“Before the city reaches a point where we can make a decision, there is a lot of information we need,” he said. “If members of the staff can get that information, I’m willing to look at it later.”

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