Erie County legislators know they won't be calling the plays, but they at least want in on the huddle.
The lawmakers - shut out of Ralph Wilson Stadium lease discussions - want County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz to tell them what's going on as he negotiates with the Buffalo Bills and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
"We're really in an awkward position, because this is a significant lease for the future of the Bills and the future of our area," said Legislature Minority Leader John J. Mills, an Orchard Park Republican. "There are some big dollars involved here."
What they don't want is to end up with a document that's hundreds of pages long that they have to make a decision on quickly. So on Thursday, they approved a formal request inviting Poloncarz's staff to tell them how they can help and to explain how a potential one-year lease extension would affect the county budget and a four-year plan.
It appears, however, that the legislators will remain on the sidelines for now.
Asked whether Poloncarz planned to have staff members attend committee meetings to provide lease updates, his office said that it "will not discuss in public the details of ongoing lease negotiations."
"It is the responsibility of the county executive, as the duly authorized representative of the people of Erie County, to conduct these negotiations with the Buffalo Bills and New York State," Poloncarz said in a statement. "When we have reached the appropriate stage and the negotiations are completed, at that point the Legislature will have the opportunity to either accept or reject the negotiated agreement."
But the legislators believe that, while they are not part of the negotiations, they should get updates in closed-door sessions from the Poloncarz administration.
"We certainly appreciate and recognize that there are aspects of negotiations that for a lot of good reasons need to remain between the parties," said Legislator Lynn M. Marinelli, a Town of Tonawanda Democrat. She said she "wholeheartedly" supports having the Legislature kept informed of the negotiations through an executive session that is closed to the public.
While Poloncarz holds the power to negotiate the lease, the legislators have the power to approve it before it is signed.
The request from the Legislature came after a round of public comments last week from Poloncarz and Bills CEO Russ Brandon that made it clear the discussions have not progressed along an aggressive timeline they had hoped would let the Bills submit a proposal to the National Football League for stadium renovations at meetings this fall.
Poloncarz told reporters last week that he and Brandon agree that a one-year extension of the lease beyond its July 2013 expiration date will likely be necessary so that the talks for a long-term agreement aren't pressured by a looming deadline.
He had hoped to have a lease agreement done by the end of the year so that construction on the stadium could begin after the NFL season but acknowledged last week that is not likely to happen.
The Bills have sought an estimated $200 million to $220 million in renovations to the county-owned stadium that is expected to be largely paid for with state dollars.
The state and county are looking for a lease that includes a Bills commitment to continue to play in Western New York.
Several legislators said Thursday that they know only what they've seen in local news reports and that recent statements have raised questions about the talks.
"We are the approval body that votes either up or down for the new lease, and it's a very complex undertaking," said Legislator Edward A. Rath III, an Amherst Republican. "For us to be best informed and to make the right decision, we need to be aware as to how the lease negotiations are progressing and what's included in those lease negotiations."