Ex-reporters challenge City Council's backroom meetings

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by STUART WATSON / NBC Charlotte

Bio | Email | Follow: @stuartwcnc

WCNC.com

Posted on May 23, 2013 at 5:46 PM

Updated Thursday, May 23 at 5:46 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A group of former Charlotte TV and radio reporters who filed suit in 1971 to end the city council’s practice of back-room meetings returned to a whole new courthouse to revisit the same old issue more than four decades later: secret meetings.

This time around it’s all about Charlotte’s City Council posting an armed guard outside a closed-door meeting with Carolina Panthers’ owner Jerry Richardson to talk about raising $900 million to refurbish Bank of America stadium and a host of other capital improvements at taxpayer expense.

City Senior Assistant Attorney Jason Kay asked Judge Robert T. Sumner to throw out the case calling it “a little monstrous in its composition”, stitching together a lawsuit more than four decades old which Kay referred to as “dead, dead, dead.”

The City contends the meeting was legal under an exemption in North Carolina’s open meetings statute to discuss “economic development”.

But the ex-reporters, including Mike Cozza, Bruce Bowers, Wayne Powers and Ken Coontz say the discussion of significant taxes and expenditures strayed far from the Panthers and the stadium improvements.

 “The city did not comply with the law, it does not comply with the law and it has no intention of complying with the law,” attorney Paul Whitfield told the court. “I’m not talking about the Panthers. Who cares? Most people want the Panthers to stay here.”

The secretive meetings began last August shortly after the Democratic National Convention came to Charlotte and Mayor Anthony Foxx learned from Democrats in Los Angeles that they were wooing the Panthers to move to L.A.

The disclosure set off a panic among some in counsel who approached Richardson and the Panthers to offer incentives to “tether” the valuable NFL franchise to Charlotte.

Judge Sumner told attorneys he would review their written filings and said, “I will be in touch with you tomorrow.”

If the Judge rules with the city’s motion to dismiss, City Attorney Bob Hageman says, “That’s it; it’s all over.”

But Whitfield says the reporters will have a difficult decision; whether to file a new lawsuit.

If the Judge rules with the reporters, the case is set for trial June 24.       

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