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Cogdell's J'Accuse

Council denies everything

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It could be that freshman Charlotte City Council member Harold Cogdell is suffering from hallucinations and needs to be medicated. Or it could be that the shifty ways of his colleagues regarding to a new arena for the NBA have finally pushed the sometimes temperamental council member over the edge. Either way, Cogdell emerged from a closed-door meeting early Tuesday morning, July 23, with harsh words for his colleagues, perhaps the harshest a council member has hurled at his own in recent memory.The purpose of the meeting between City Manager Pam Syfert and the council was for them to instruct her on how to carry out closed-door negotiations with the NBA on the construction and operation of a potential new $230 million uptown arena. That's where Cogdell's account of what went on in the meeting diverges from that of other council members.

When Cogdell left the meeting before it was over, WBT-TV reporter Mike Cozza asked him for comment on what was taking place inside the meeting, from which the media was barred.

"There seemed to be as much concern about saving political face as there was about the best interest of the taxpayers," Cogdell said on tape.

The clip was played on both the station's newscast and on WBT radio later in the day Tuesday. Cozza told Creative Loafing that Cogdell told him he left the meeting, which ran past midnight on Monday, because he had to make a living and because he "wanted to make a point."

The Charlotte Observer ran a similar quote from Cogdell about the discussion among council members in the meeting in which he said: "None of it involved what was in the best interest of the city."

Though other council members present at the meeting denied Cogdell's version of events, Cogdell stuck to his guns in a Friday interview with CL.

"There was some discussion about how to deal with the public and what the negotiating parameters would be," said Cogdell. "They seemed to be concerned about how those parameters were going to go over with the public and there were several comments made about it."

Council member Don Lochman said it didn't go down that way.

"Unbelievable," said Lochman. "No, it was a business-like and constructive discussion. I don't have a clue what that WBT story could be talking about."

Council members John Tabor and James Mitchell also say it just wasn't so.

"The discussion in closed session was about making sure Pam had the right parameters," said Mitchell. "It was not about politicians saving face."

Though Mitchell was not referring to the meeting at the time, he added that he hoped that negotiations with the league could be wrapped up quickly in a few negotiating sessions to keep public angst over the arena issue from growing out of control.

"The longer this is out there, the more those naysayers use this to beat us over the head," said Mitchell. "We don't get to talk about other things. If we could put this to bed, I think this could be good for the whole city."

Whatever went on in that meeting, Cogdell's derisive comments didn't stop there. Before the closed-door meeting, Cogdell and Mayor Pat McCrory engaged in a verbal duel over whether the arena was more important to council than other issues. Earlier in the evening, Cogdell had proposed that the city look at the seemingly lengthy amount of time it took for the city to demolish homes owned by absentee landlords with numerous code violations. He suggested to McCrory that the city refer the matter to committee quickly for further study, because it was beginning to become a major problem in his district.

Later, during the council's televised meeting, Cogdell complained that the council seemed to be spending all its time on the arena, rather than on issues that mattered to neighborhoods in his district and across the city. As an example, he said he felt the code issues he'd mentioned earlier in the evening weren't a priority to council.

McCrory blasted back at Cogdell, saying that he thought he had given attention to the matter and that the reason it seemed that the arena was dominating the council's time was because the media focused so much attention on it.

Cogdell disagrees.

"Since I was elected, this arena issue has consumed a great amount of time of a lot of members on council and not as much focus has been on smaller neighborhood quality of life issues," said Cogdell. "When they get brought up, they get brushed aside. To the mayor, it seemed to be something that was not that important to discuss."

Cogdell says he's often frustrated because he thinks council members are afraid to publicly speak their minds.

"What you say behind closed doors, say in front of council," Cogdell said.

Cogdell doesn't show any signs of changing his somewhat combative style on council.

"I didn't get elected to sing "Kumbaya" and hold hands," he said.

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