Ain’t that a kick? Public money for soccer – without the public involved

The Observer editorial board

Major League Soccer President Mark Abbott plans to be in Charlotte Tuesday.
Major League Soccer President Mark Abbott plans to be in Charlotte Tuesday. File photo

Updated, 6 p.m., July 12:

Anyone know a good PR consultant? Major League Soccer, Bruton and Marcus Smith, and Mecklenburg County management are in desperate need of your services.

Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio on Monday told commissioners that the MLS president, Mark Abbott, would be in town next Tuesday and wanted to meet with commissioners as part of his visit.

Commissioners asked if the meeting would be public. By state law, it would have to be if at least five of the nine county commissioners attend. Several commissioners agreed to attend largely to ensure that the meeting was open to the public.

But this afternoon, Diorio told commissioners the meeting would be private or wouldn’t take place, at MLS officials’ insistence.

“We cannot do this as a public meeting, so if there will be more than 4 we will split you into smaller groups,” Diorio said in an email to commissioners.

Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour asked on what legal grounds the meeting would be closed and Diorio responded:

“They have requested that the meeting not be public. If you insist that the meeting be public than [sic] it will not happen at all.”

But when the Observer editorial board reported that, Abbott called the board to say that MLS had never insisted that the meeting be private. He said MLS had not requested to meet with commissioners, had not set the meeting agenda and had not asked that any meeting with commissioners be private.

“The whole thing is a puzzle to me,” Abbott told us. “I’m the chief, I’m coming and that’s not what I said. ... I don’t know who told them that, it’s not us.”

In an email to the editorial board, he said: “We have not spoken with anyone at the County about the visit and we certainly never requested a meeting, private or otherwise. We have been invited to Charlotte and did not have any involvement in the schedule.”

When asked who would have insisted the meeting be private, Abbott said: “There’s a group trying to bring MLS to Charlotte. I would direct you to them.”

A representative working with the Smiths on their MLS bid could not immediately be reached.

One thing should be clear to the Smiths, MLS and Dioro: If you want more than $100 million in public assistance, don’t shut out the public.

This is just another public-relations debacle for the Smiths, who were having a hard enough time already drumming up public support. With all the urgent demands for tax dollars today, many citizens recognize that the Smiths could afford to take up this project on their own dime.

One sure way to harden that opposition is to come to town looking to work over the politicians who control the purse strings but insisting that that all be done out of the public’s view.

And Diorio seems to have forgotten who she works for. It’s not the Smiths or MLS. It’s the commissioners and, ultimately, the public. She shouldn’t be letting anyone hand out ultimatums. She should have insisted that with five commissioners wanting to attend, the meeting would be public or there would be no meeting. Instead, she lets others declare that the meeting will be private or there will be no meeting.

Hey, Smiths: You want the Mecklenburg taxpayer’s money? Make the case to the taxpayer.