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Charlotte Area

Veteran Journalists Challenge City's Secret Meetings With Panthers

panthers stadium lawsuit journos.jpg
Julie Rose

  A group of former Charlotte reporters from the 1970s are taking the city to court over its decision to negotiate behind closed doors for tax money to renovate Panthers' stadium. 

These same journalists and their lawyer sued the city for violating the state open meetings law in the early 1970's – and won. As a result, Superior Court Judge Frank Snepp placed the city under a permanent injunction against breaking the law.

"They were to never do it again, and now they have done it again!" says retired WBTV reporter Mike Cozza. He, Bruce Bowers, Ken Koontz and Wayne Powers are asking the court to find the city in contempt of that original injunction. 

There are exceptions to the state open meetings law – such as when personnel matters are being discussed or economic incentives are being considered for a business looking to locate or expand in the city. That's the reason the city used for negotiating a $144 million tax incentive for the Panthers in secret.

Cozza doesn't think that's a valid reason: "The location of the Panthers' stadium is not an issue - it's been located at 800 South Mint Street for 18 years!"

But Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann says the definition of "location or expansion" "has been broadly interpreted by attorneys in this state as including retaining existing companies with incentives."

And Hagemann says the city needs to deliberate over incentives in private so it can maintain negotiating leverage and get the best deal for taxpayers.

Once a deal is final, the city is required to vote on it publicly and release minutes from the closed meetings. Documents from the city's Panthers negotiations aren't available yet because it's far from a done deal. The city's plan to raise the money through a tax increase has been rejected by state lawmakers.

Cozza and his colleagues hope a judge will force the city's next round of Panthers negotiations to happen in public.