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Cozza vs. City, Round 1

Reporter removed from City Manager's office

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The first battle between the media and the city over the secrecy surrounding the arena talks was fought last Friday in Charlotte City Manager Pam Syfert's office. So far, it looks like the media is the losing side.City officials have said they won't release the time, date or even the location of the city's talks with the NBA to the media. WBTV reporter Mike Cozza was trying to glean this information by staking out Syfert's office at the Government Center when police escorted him out after city staff asked him to leave. Cozza, who has been frustrated by the closed-door nature of the talks, said he and a cameraman were sitting quietly outside Syfert's office when they were asked to leave by security personnel and head city spokesperson Julie Hill, who showed up in person to ask Cozza to leave. City staff says Syfert wasn't present at the time.

"We felt it was a public building and we had a right to be there," Cozza said. Cozza claims that when he asked the police officer who escorted him out if he would be arrested if he returned to Syfert's office, the officer said he would. Cozza chose not to return. That evening, WBTV led its newscast with footage of Cozza being escorted out of Syfert's office by the officer.

"Never in 30 years of covering government in Charlotte have I seen the level of secrecy I've seen in the arena issue," Cozza said. "Pam Syfert has decided the people don't have a right to know about arena negotiations."

Hill was on vacation when Creative Loafing called her for comment, but city spokesperson Rick Davis, who was not present when Cozza was removed, says he was told that two employees who were working near the entrance to Syfert's office were distracted from their work by Cozza's presence and asked that he be removed. Davis says Cozza refused to leave and "got a bit belligerent."

The rest of the media generally wait for interviews with Syfert in the 15th floor lobby, rather than right outside Syfert's door, Davis said.

"It really wasn't necessary for him to be sitting right outside the office door," said Davis.

But Cozza says he didn't want to wait in the lobby because he couldn't see who came and went from Syfert's office. In the weeks before the incident occurred, Cozza said, he had a discussion with Syfert and Hill about what he sees as an unreasonable level of secrecy surrounding the talks and asked them to change their plans and be more forthright with the media about their negotiation plans throughout the process.

"I am neither for or against the arena," said Cozza. "I am for the public's right to know."

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