Jerry Richardson has been aggressively seeking taxpayer money to fund upgrades to his 17-year-old stadium, despite leaked documents that show the Panthers are incredibly profitable. Here's another thing Charlotte residents didn't know until today: Richardson was invited to address the city council's "closed" session before it voted to raise taxes to fund his stadium work.
The process of financing Bank of America Stadium renovations has been a controversial one. At a Jan. 14 closed meeting, the city council voted to double the city's food and beverage tax to provide $144 million to the Panthers. Four journalists then took the city to court, claiming that conducting that business in secret was illegal:
“We contend the city violated Judge Snepp’s injunction and the N.C. Open Meetings Law with closed discussions and a secret tax vote. The mayor and city council have grown increasingly arrogant in handling public business behind closed doors. They now seek a major tax hike as if it were some private matter.”
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It turns out the meeting was closed to reporters, but not to the man pushing the tax hikes: Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. WFAE reports today that Richardson sat in on multiple closed city council sessions, including that climactic Jan. 14 meeting, and was even allowed to make his case with implied blackmail just minutes before the vote was conducted:
He saw their reaction when Hagemann and Kimble warned that the Panthers were "ripe for courting" and Los Angeles was lurking to nab a team. He heard council members explore various taxes they could tap to fund the stadium and wonder if they could tie the team to Charlotte for more than ten years.
Then Richardson stood to remind the council how he'd "gone to bat for the city" by getting the NFL to change its opening day for the Democratic National Convention. And he shared a not-so-subtle story about how he quit the NFL after his third year playing because they offered him $250 short of the $10,000 contract he thought he was worth.
The system, every system, is rigged in the favor of the powerful; the council voted 7-2 in favor of funding the stadium. The state later killed that bill, but two weeks ago the council met again—this time in a public session—and voted unanimously to give the Panthers $87.5 million of existing tax revenue.
Panthers Get Special Access To Closed Council Meetings [WFAE]