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Erie County Legislature demands Poloncarz release Bills stadium study, disagrees over sitting in on negotiations

Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park
Buffalo Bills
Erie County legislators are demanding the county administration be more transparency about negotiations for a new Buffalo Bills stadium. The team reportedly wants to build a new $1.4 billion stadium near the current one (pictured) in Orchard Park.

Much has been reported in the media over the last month about what Buffalo Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula want for a new stadium, but the Erie County Legislature, which would have to approve any new stadium deal, say they’ve been kept in the dark.

Legislators voted Thursday to demand more transparency from the county administration about the ongoing negotiations, although they disagreed at times on how best to go about it.

First, the Legislature approved a resolution demanding County Executive Mark Poloncarz release the Pegulas’ stadium study to the public, if he has it.

That study, conducted by CAA ICON, is behind the Pegulas’ reported proposal of building a $1.4 billion, open-air, 60,000-seat stadium near the current county-owned one in Orchard Park. The Pegulas reportedly want taxpayers to fund most, if not, all of that price tag.

“We just want to be brought up to speed and we don't want to be asked to vote on something at the last minute,” said Legislator John Gilmour, a Democrat. “We want to know how things are progressing as they go along.”

John Gilmour
Tom Dinki
Erie County Legislator John Gilmour speaks to reporters after a legislature hearing Sept. 23, 2021.

Poloncarz responded to the Legislature on Twitter, saying he’s not in possession of the study.

“It's impossible to turn over something we don't have,” he tweeted. “As we have told the legislature and others before, the Pegulas’ stadium study is property of the team. It has not been turned over to the county or state.”

The Legislature’s resolution specifies Poloncarz must turn over the study only if he, or his “agents and representatives,” are in possession of the document. Poloncarz told Investigative Post last month that county attorneys have seen the study, but his office does not have a copy.

The approved resolution did not set a deadline for Poloncarz to turn over the study, but legislators say they expect it to happen as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Gov. Kathy Hochul revealed Wednesday that the state is conducting its own study, and that it plans to release that one to the public soon.

While agreeing the study should be public, legislators disagreed on whether they should be involved in stadium negotiations. Republicans in the Minority Caucus proposed a resolution that demanded legislators be allowed in the negotiating room between the county and the Bills to observe.

“We could have had actual eyeballs from the legislature in the meetings, would know what's going on, and when it ultimately comes to us for a vote, we can make a better informed decision,” said Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo, a Conservative.

Joseph Lorigo
Tom Dinki
Erie County Legislature Minority Leader Joseph Lorigo speaks after reporters after a legislature hearing Sept. 23, 2021.

However, Democrats in the Majority Caucus voted it down.

“That's not our job,” Gilmour said. “The county executive, he was elected to negotiate contracts for the people of Erie County. We were elected as a separate branch of government to make sure that those contracts are aboveboard.”

Another Democrat, Legislator Howard Johnson, invoked the Chargers’ 2017 exit from San Diego to explain his vote against the resolution.

“Does San Diego still have a team? They don't, because of the negotiations that took place with everybody with their hand in the pot. Chargers said, ‘Hey, we out of here,’” he said. “We can’t have too many cooks in the kitchen, and I think this resolution is asking to put a bunch of cooks in the kitchen.”

Democrats instead approved a resolution requiring the Poloncarz administration to regularly update the Legislature on how talks with the Bills are going.

It was a contentious meeting at times, including a heated exchange between Lorigo and Gilmour over procedure rules. It came after Gilmour called a point of order as Lorigo was arguing about procedure rules with Majority Leader April Baskin.

“Point of order doesn’t give you the right to stand up and say whatever you want,” Lorigo told Gilmour.

“You monopolize the floor all the time, Joe,” Gilmour responded. “Let other people talk. You’ve been recognized. You’re speaking right now.”

“And you interrupted me,” Lorigo said.

There was also confusion over amendments to the resolutions, and what was actually being voted on. At one point, Howard called the meeting a “circus.”

April Baskin
Tom Dinki
Erie County Legislature Majority Leader April Baskin oversees a legislature hearing Sept. 23, 2021.

Still, legislators were united in their frustration over the county administration’s lack of transparency.

“To date, there has been no updates or communication with the Legislature as to how those negotiations are going,” said Baskin, a Democrat. “To be even more frank, to understand that a new stadium was even possibly coming to Erie County, has never been formally told to me by anybody from the current negotiation table. I read about it in the media, and that I disagree with.”

Lorigo said he’s happy legislators agreed study should be public, but still wishes they could observe negotiations.

“[Democrats in the Legislature] provide lip service to transparency, and every time they have the opportunity to vote for transparency, they vote against it,” he said. “So shame on them.”

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.