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Erie County Legislature committee meets today on opening stadium talks to public

Highmark Stadium at night
Buffalo Bills

A new stadium in Orchard Park for the Buffalo Bills is likely to cost over $1 billion, with the public expected to pay most of the cost. An active open government group says that's why the public should be allowed to talk about the issue at public hearings.

Government in Erie County can be very opaque, with little streaming coverage of legislature meetings and no standard procedure to allow the public to speak at meetings, committees or full legislative sessions.

That's why the New York Coalition for Open Government wants more visible public input in the process. The group is backing a proposal from the County Legislature's Minority Caucus to mandate openness, a measure before the Finance and Management Committee Thursday morning.

Coalition President Paul Wolf will speak to the committee.

"The Legislature did, recently, unanimously approve stating that the study should be released, which is good and now there's a resolution in front of the Legislature in committee, calling for public hearings to be held before any vote occurs on the stadium deal, which our organization supports," he said.

Wolf wants to see three public hearings. He said the Bills have a stadium study seen but not possessed by county officials.

"There definitely is a culture of secrecy in government and, unfortunately, it seems to be our government officials are aiding and abetting the Pegulas in keeping the stadium information secret," Wolf said. "They could have requested to receive a copy of the study, but they know once they get it, then it becomes subject to FOIL."

Because the study was done for Pegula Sports and Entertainment, freedom of information laws don't apply. That's even if county officials have looked at the report.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.