The meetings of a high-level panel studying new stadium options for the Buffalo Bills would be open to the press and public if Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns has his way.
The Buffalo Democrat has written Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, asking that the New Stadium Working Group be subject to the state’s Open Meetings Law, even if the meetings may technically remain closed.
“We’re paying $95 million from the state and Erie County, and right now we don’t have a seat at the table,” Kearns told The Buffalo News regarding public access to the group’s meetings.
The New Stadium Working Group is a 20-member advisory panel with representatives appointed by the state, county and Bills to study where – or whether – to build a new stadium. Its creation stemmed from the new lease agreement calling for public dollars to renovate the current Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Most recently, reports from the group have floated the idea of a potential new stadium in Niagara County, as well as a possible new field and practice facility to be used in conjunction with the University at Buffalo.
But Kearns maintains that such an important decision shouldn’t be reached in secrecy, noting he represents Orchard Park – the current home of the Bills. “Although the New Stadium Working Group is made up of some our finest elected officials and leaders in the community,” Kearns told Cuomo, “their undisclosed meetings have caused uneasiness, concern and uncertainty that I cannot respond to.”
The assemblyman also told Cuomo that the “secretive nature of these proceedings” has caused concern “among the most important supporters of the Bills – the 12th Man.” That same “12th Man,” he said, is paying for the bulk of the current renovations to Ralph Wilson Stadium and would be expected to participate in building a new stadium or making future renovations to the current stadium.
He also said he has created a link on his Assembly web page to provide a forum for his constituents to comment on his request. “The New Stadium Working Group has the authority to spend money,” he said. “People are concerned, and this will give them a platform.”
“We haven’t seen the letter yet and we’ll review it once we do,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi. Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, was unavailable for comment Monday.
Also Monday, Sen. Charles E. Schumer said while in Buffalo that he’s waiting for a date for the next meeting of the working group. Schumer addressed provisions of the 10-year lease agreement signed by Erie County, New York State and the Bills that is intended to keep the team here at least seven years, even if it is eventually sold.
“The 10-year contract is pretty good, but we want to start thinking beyond that,” he said. “We want the Bills to stay here for generations.”
News staff reporter Denise Jewell Gee contributed to this report. email: firstname.lastname@example.org