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County Commission Calls Off Meeting With MLS Execs

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Major League Soccer officials will be in Charlotte next week for a close-up look at the local bid for an expansion team. But they won't be meeting with county commissioners. That's been canceled after commissioners opposed to county funding for a new stadium demanded the meeting be public.

County Manager Dena Diorio emailed county commissioners earlier this week to organize a private meeting with MLS President Mark Abbott, who will be in Charlotte Tuesday. If five or more commissioners wanted to attend - a quorum - Diorio planned to split it into two meetings to avoid an open session – required by state law.

Diorio said on WFAE's Charlotte Talks that MLS4CLT leaders told her the MLS was not interested in a public meeting.  

"So what we tried to do is we tried to schedule private meetings whether it be one private meeting with four members or in small groups ... to give them an opportunity to talk to the MLS officials. But our board decided the majority wanted to have a public meeting, and if that was not gonna suit MLS, than, in fact, we went ahead and canceled."

The meeting plans unraveled Wednesday when county commissioners Jim Puckett and Pat Cotham asked for the meeting with Abbott to be open. MLS4CLT wants the county to chip in $44 million for a new stadium near uptown. They argue any discussions should be public.

The debate led to a lot of finger-pointing about who wanted the meeting with commissioners to be private.  Major League Soccer's Abbott told the Charlotte Observer he didn't ask for it. And MLS4CLT leaders didn't either.

"Nobody asked for a private meeting. I think there was some maybe miscommunication or misunderstanding," said Mike Burch, chief strategy officer for the local bid committee.

But Burch admits that given opposition from some commissioners, a public meeting wouldn't be a good idea.  "The reason was just to get MLS officials introduced to county officials," he said.

But could that have been done in a public meeting?

"Unfortunately, given the position of some of the opposition and they have been very vocal, and you start having to schedule and it just got to become very cumbersome, and move beyond the scope ..." he said.

Beyond the scope of a meet-and-greet, as the county manager originally described it.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman said the city council is still finalizing plans for a meeting with the MLS officials Tuesday. So far, there’s been no public notice for a meeting.  

Tuesday's visit by Abbott and MLS officials will include meetings with local leaders, a tour of a local soccer academy, and a 5 p.m. rally in First Ward Park to show community support for Major League Soccer.