VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - Two Beach councilmen are calling for transparency after $700,000 in taxpayer money funded a sports arena study without their approval.
This week, Comcast-Spectacor told council about its proposal to build the 18,000-seat, $350 million arena across from the Virginia Beach Convention Center. It's widely rumored the Sacramento Kings would be the anchor tenant, but team officials have declined comment.
Councilmen Bill DeSteph and John Moss say they had no idea taxpayer dollars were being spent on this project. They say they learned of the Virginia Beach Economic Development Authority's "secret meetings" this week.
Since February 2011, the Economic Development Authority has spent the money to research the economic reach of a potential sports arena. Councilmen Bill DeSteph and John Moss say they - like the public - were the last to know.
"Something like this should not be a backroom secret deal," said DeSteph, at a news conference Saturday morning.
In closed door sessions, the authority agreed to pay the money to a main contractor who then paid subcontractors to research and advocate for the project. Councilmen Moss says he's suspicious because some of those subcontractors have a finger in the financial pie.
"The people who want the deal provided the data that says it will make money," said Moss.
Mayor Will Sessoms, a public supporter of the deal, says he was not informed, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"I don't particularly approve of the way they handled the contracts being approved in a closed session, but I will sit back and say to you, an investment of $700,000 when you're looking at potentially a $350 million dollar investment to the city, I would think that's a very wise investment to make to ensure we have the proper information to either say move forward or not to move forward," said Sessoms.
The only people on the council who knew about the proposal were the liaisons to the authority, Vice Mayor Louis Jones and Councillor Rosemary Wilson. Neither one alerted the rest of council until this month. DeSteph and Moss say the other council members were briefed before they were told about the proposal.
"Maybe we could have known what was happening and said, "Wait a minute. Did you have a public vote.? Wait a minute!'" said Moss. "And we could have avoided this major creation of a lack of public trust."
The economic development authority is it's own entity, legally separate from the city.
Councilmen DeSteph and Moss are hoping the Commonwealth's Attorney will investigate whether the Open Meetings Act was violated.
Both support the project, only if it's funded entirely by private money. And if public dollars are necessary, the councilmen want the public to vote on the proposal.
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