Arlington stadium opponents yesterday accused the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority of violating public open meetings laws by selecting five stadium site candidates without a public vote.
A recent opinion from the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council said the stadium authority’s March29 announcement of the five potential sites at a Crystal City news conference, which was closed to some members of the public, “does not satisfy the requirements of [the Freedom of Information Act].
“If such a vote [on stadium sites] was not taken at an opening meeting prior to the press conference, the announced sites were not official selections of the Authority, and the mere announcement of the sites did not make them official,” the opinion goes on to read.
The advisory opinion, sought by the No Arlington Stadium Coalition, marks yet another scrum in a flurry of contentious battles between the citizen group and the stadium authority. Already opposed to a stadium in Arlington because of traffic, infrastructure and public financing concerns, the coalition now believes the authority is not conducting its stadium site selection process with enough public transparency.
“The stadium authority has been behaving like a private corporation and not part of our state government,” said Sarah Summerville, chairman and co-founder of the No Arlington Stadium Coalition. Summerville and other stadium opponents were denied entry into the March29 news conference.
The authority, conversely, stands behind its stadium selection process and access to the public. A commonwealth entity whose members are appointed by the governor, the authority selected the five site candidates out of more than 40 initial options, and in recent weeks has held several public forums and news conferences to detail its efforts.
“The last thing I want to hear is somebody didn’t know,” said Michael Frey, stadium authority chairman and member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “People aren’t always going to agree with what we’re doing, but we have nothing to hide. We’re not trying to be evasive.”
Frey declined to comment on failing to vote publicly on the five site finalists before the news conference, saying only “we haven’t selected a stadium site.”
The authority does hold regular monthly meetings. Public turnout at the sessions, however, is often non-existent, and the authority frequently goes into closed session to discuss real estate matters, permitted under the Virginia public code.
The stadium opponents have now submitted to the authority a massive FOIA request demanding the minutes of every stadium authority meeting in its eight-year existence, and a full accounting of traffic, transportation and financing studies and attendance projections. Such documentation will number in the thousands of pages.
“We will comply with the request. We have no choice, really,” Frey said. “But there are provisions in the law for extensions, the charging of fees for copying and staff time. If needed, we will explore those options.”
Two of Arlington stadium site candidates are next to each other in Pentagon City. A third Arlington candidate is in Rosslyn on the current site of the River Place apartment complex. The fourth site is on the Engineering Proving Grounds in Springfield, and the fifth is near Dulles International Airport.
The clear favorite among Virginia baseball boosters is one of the Pentagon City sites that is largely undeveloped and currently owned by the Morris & Gwendolyn Cafritz foundation and several private partners. That group, however, already has submitted applications with Arlington County for mixed-use developments on its property.