The meeting between Major League Soccer officials and Mecklenburg County Commissioners Tuesday has been canceled amid questions about whether such meetings should be closed to the public.
The cancellation follows a back and forth Wednesday about who requested that the discussions be held behind closed doors. The MLS visit comes as city and county are considering a contentious plan to use taxpayer money to help fund a $175 million, 20,000-seat MLS stadium in Elizabeth.
The city will still hold a closed-door meeting with the MLS, according to a source familiar with the matter. A city spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.
On Wednesday, elected officials had said that 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.
Never miss a local story.
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.”
Diorio confirmed Thursday morning that nothing is on the schedule with the MLS and county commissioners next week “based on the original direction to me from MLS4CLT that there was no interest in a public meeting.”
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.”