Politics & Government

Charlotte City Council did not break law in private Panthers talks, judge rules

The Charlotte City Council did not break the law when it voted privately to offer the Carolina Panthers millions in tax-backed incentives to stay in town, a judge ruled Thursday.

Three former TV reporters sued last year, claiming that the council’s discussion and votes during closed-door sessions in 2012-13 violated the state’s open-meetings law.

City lawyers argued that the meetings were legal since the law allows government groups to meet privately to discuss economic development.

On Thursday, Catawba Superior Court Judge Nathaniel Poovey, who heard arguments Tuesday, ruled for the city.

“We believed all along that the council was legally justified,” City Attorney Bob Hagemann said. “We understand that some disagree with the council’s decision, but the process was perfectly legal.”

Mike Cozza, a former longtime reporter at WBTV and one of the city’s accuser, called the ruling “a sad day for open government in Charlotte.”

“I’m sorry to see a ruling that allows government secrecy, especially on a plan to raise taxes,” Cozza said. “...Secrecy is part of what led to the current municipal corruption in Charlotte. This ruling may foster more closed meetings, more dicussions and actions behind the backs of taxpayers.” Michael Gordon