The New Bills Stadium Working Group, an inter-governmental initiative of Governor Andrew Cuomo, met for the first time on Tuesday – behind closed doors at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center. They had planned for the meeting to be secret, but word got out in advance. Though they did allow for pictures briefly beforehand, the media and the public were then prohibited from the room, where officials conducted nearly two and a half hours of discussions.
Congressional candidate Eddie Egriu, the “anti-war liberal” and “pro-hemp populist” who is challenging Brian Higgins in the Democratic primary was at the Convention Center to voice his concern that the region’s political leadership is continuing to make the same mistakes that have caused delay and procedural gridlock at the Peace Bridge, at Canalside, and at the Outer Harbor. He thinks that a culture of back door political dealings instigate public outrage and opposition to major public projects because the public’s vision for itself is different from the politicians’ vision for the public. A classic Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses socio-spatial conundrum.
“We have a political culture that tolerates this kind of behavior, where the well-connected and politically powerful can collude behind closed doors, architecting massive projects at taxpayer expense. If the public is going to foot the bill – you’re damn right that we deserve a seat at the table,” Egriu said in the lobby of the Convention Center.
Pictured above, Eddie Egriu being questioned by WIVB’s Lou Raguse, outside the New Stadium Working Group’s closed door meeting.
“I support a new stadium, but only if we engage the public in a profoundly participatory planning process,” he explained.
Activists are alleging that the meeting violated New York State’s Public Officers Law, requiring that meetings convened by public officials conducting public business be open to the public. The intergovernmental working group is expected to function like a board or taskforce, and has three named co-chairs: Lt. Governor Robert Duffy, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and Bills CEO Russ Brandon.
The group did not release minutes of the meeting, which included nearly two and half hours of closed door discussions. Branden called the meeting “a syllabus for future discussions.” They did not release said syllabus.
“There is a sense of urgency in this group. Everyone understands the seriousness of this process,” said Lt. Gov. Duffy.
When asked by Danny Spewak, WGRZ’s intrepid newcomer, about the alleged violations of the open meetings law, Poloncarz said the panel was “advisory,” refused to take his questions on the subject, then abruptly hurried out of the room – literally running from the cameras and reporters. What little Poloncarz said on the subject can be heard in Spewak’s report.
“We need to cultivate a better political culture that embraces public engagement as a civic value. I want to make that central to our civic identity – and our first step is ending behavior like this,” Egriu added. “I want citizen review panels, public workshops, open forums, and other processes that will make the eventual outcome a far better public investment with an immense sense of civic purpose that defines it.”
Pictured above, the working group’s Co-Chairs Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, County Executive Mark Poloncarz, and Bills CEO Russ Brandon take questions from the press, who got word of the would-be secret meeting beforehand.