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Criticism grows over process behind Bills stadium community benefit negotiations

"How can the community benefit if they aren't in the room?" That was the question members of the community asked Thursday at the Johnnie B. Wiley Athletic Pavilion.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Kathryn Franco and about 50 other members of the community gathered on the second floor of the Johnnie B. Wiley Athletic Sports Pavilion on Thursday afternoon. 

They want the public to know that it's unacceptable that the public has been left out of the process regarding the community benefit agreement negotiations between Erie County and Pegula Sports.

"While these negotiations are happening, there needs to be some sort of outreach to the community," Franco said. "There need to be more conversations like this, where folks are being heard for their different areas of expertise."

One of the kerfuffles of the negotiations has been the signing of non-disclosure agreements, preventing the public from even knowing basic information about the process. 

County Executive Mark Poloncarz, as well as county legislature Chairwoman April Baskin and Timothy Meyers, have signed the NDAs. Republican legislator John Mills was invited to the negotiation table as well, but it's unclear if he has signed it. 

An email inquiring about it to Mills went unanswered Thursday. 

Spokespersons for Poloncarz and Baskins had no comment, citing the ongoing negotiations. 

"We have a weariness, awareness about community benefits agreements, particularly when we haven't been at the table from the beginning, which is what a true community benefits agreement is," Franco said. 

The Bills, Erie County, and New York state have a deadline of September 1 to wrap up all the paperwork for the new stadium. Poloncarz, however, told 2 On Your Side back in July that the deadline could be extended. 

“The document also says it can be extended if the parties are still in the process of talking and so that’s exactly what we’re going to do. It doesn’t have to be done by September. We’ve got time,” Poloncarz said. 

Regardless of the time, those that gathered at the meeting Thursday said it's not just the building of the stadium that they want to be a part of. The Bills signed a 30-year lease as part of the new facility, and the community members want a voice in the benefits of the region having the Bills for that period too. 

"It can't just end when the negotiations also can't end, as soon as the stadium is built, there needs to be a process that is put in place for public participation for the life of this lease," Franco said. 

Beverly Newkirk from the community organization "It Takes A Village" was very vocal in the meeting about minority-owned contractors being left out of the bidding process. 

"If it's our tax money, we ought to get part of it, and I'm not talking about 25%," Newkirk said, referencing the state MWBE requirements. "Until we come together and start standing together, we'll never be able to change anything, and it's time to change the way things are being done."

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