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CVC seeks legal justification for keeping Dome proposal secret

(via Flickr/Kevin Ward)

Updated at 6 am with counterclaim and statement from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission is asking a judge to keep private a counterproposal from the St. Louis Rams on upgrades to the Edward Jones Dome.

In the suit filed today, the CVC is arguing that the proposal is exempt from Missouri's Sunshine Law because it is a document that relates to "leasing, purchase,  or sale of real estate by a public governmental body where public knowledge of the transaction might adversely affect the legal consideration therefor."

The whole dispute relates to a clause in the lease the St. Louis Rams signed with the CVC, which operates the Dome, that requires the Dome to be in the "top tier" of football stadiums, generally interpreted to mean in the top 25 percent. In March, the Rams rejected $124 million in proposed upgrades, and had until yesterday to offer a counterproposal. They provided that information to the CVC, who declined to make it public - citing at first a confidentiality agreement with the Rams, and then exemptions under the Sunshine Law. (The CVC made its initial proposal public because the St. Louis Rams waived the confidentiality agreement.)

The suit argues that the counterproposal is part of ongoing negotiations that will result in an amendment to the lease, and that documents do not have to be provided until an amendment's been signed or all proposals have been rejected. The parties will go to arbitration on June 15 if they can't reach an agreement before then.

The CVC says it will disclose all documents when that happens - but says until then, public scrutiny could harm negotiations. From today's filing:

There is a very real danger that public knowledge of the on-going negotiations might adversely affect the legal consideration for any lease amendment. Various interest groups and citizens will have diverse and conflicting opinions regarding the propriety of the proposed improvements and the proposed financing of any such improvements, and they will undoubtedly attempt to put pressure on the CVC, as well as elected officials in the City and County of St. Louis and the State of Missouri, regarding the outcome of these negotiations. Disclosure of the details of the negotiations, before any contract or lease amendment is executed, might jeopardize the CVC's ability to negotiate the most favorable contract or lease amendment and/or undermine its negotiating position with the RAMS. (Capitalization in original)

By filing suit today in St. Louis Circuit Court, the CVC appears to be preempting a lawsuit from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which has filed numerous Sunshine Law requests seeking documents related to the Dome upgrades.

Update: In a counterclaim, the Post-Dispatch asks the judge to provide immediate access to the records it's seeking, which appear to include an alternate CVC plan in which the Rams would eliminate the "first-tier" clause from the Dome lease.  The Post-Dispatch claim argues that the real estate exemption does not apply because the Rams' proposal is not a document directly related to the "leasing, purchase or sale" of real estate. The counterclaim argues that "public knowledge and scrutiny into the process is not a 'danger,' but the very thing the Sunshine Law is intended to foster."

Post-Dispatch editor Arne Robbins released the following statement:

"It's simple, really. The CVC is a public governmental body funded by public funds. It is negotiating improvements for a publicly-owned stadium that likely will involve public funds. We believe that the policy behind the Sunshine Law is to ensure transparency in situations in which the public's representatives are proposing deals that would result in the expenditure of tax money. We don't believe it serves the public to learn the facts after a deal is done. In a democratic society, public input into the process is vital and should not be treated as an inconvenience.''

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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