In holding Monday nights meeting with the Carolina Panthers in closed session, the city cited a state statute that allows council members to meet in private to discuss economic development issues.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police didnt allow members of the media near the room in which council members and the team were meeting. Council members often meet in closed session, but having police protect the meeting room is highly unusual.
In its explanation for going into closed session, the city said it was meeting to discuss matters relating to the location of industries or businesses in the City of Charlotte, including potential economic development incentives that may be offered in negotiations.
The city has used that statute to meet in private to discuss giving financial incentives to companies such as Chiquita Brands International, which it lured from Ohio.
However, in spring 2012, when the City Council was considering giving the Charlotte Knights AAA baseball team money for an uptown stadium, council members always discussed the issue and voted in public.
Amanda Martin, an attorney with the N.C. Press Association, said its OK for local governments to meet in closed session to offer incentives in an attempt to keep a business from leaving. But she said that a theoretical, ambiguous assertion isnt enough to justify meeting in closed session.
To meet in closed session, she said there should be a real possibility that the Panthers are considering leaving Charlotte if the City Council wont help them financially.
Some council members have theorized that the Panthers could move to Los Angeles. They are concerned what will happen to the team when owner Jerry Richardson dies.
Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann said he couldnt comment on any aspect of the closed session. He only said that state law gives governments the option to meet in private to discuss economic development issues.
The city usually makes an audio recording of closed session meetings about economic development. Those recordings as well as other documents about an economic development deal become public record when the council has made a final decision.
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