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Saffo, Cheatham, Rivenbark refuse to talk baseball, hotel, budget

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WILMINGTON,NC (WWAY) -- It seems like our city leaders are afraid to talk about the baseball project and where it stands right now.

We thought it would be a good idea if we invited Mayor Bill Saffo and City Manager Sterling Cheatham over for an interview today.

We know that there are a lot of projects on the table right now, and a lot of numbers floating around, and that the people of Wilmington would like a clearer picture of what's going on with the baseball proposal, the convention center hotel proposal and the new budget.

We talked to Mayor Saffo yesterday and asked him to come over and sit down with us yesterday or today. He said he needed the questions first. We rarely do that, but we told him that because the interview was important to us, we would make an exception. We e-mailed them last night. Today, he wouldn't answer the request or return a text.

We also extended the same invitation to Cheatham. We were told he was too busy today. He was also too busy yesterday to return a text we sent him and a voice message we left him.

Even more interesting, we invited City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark to do an interview yesterday. He told us he was out of town and couldn't, but soon afterwards, our General Manager ran into him at Trolly Stop downtown.

We thought it was these guy's jobs to answer questions from the media. They may not like it and they may be hard questions, but if they're relevant to the people they serve, they should step up.

Here are the questions we sent to Mayor Saffo last night that he refuses to answer:

BASEBALL

1) It's no secret Wilmington is still in a recession. We're running at around 10 percent unemployment. The NSS reports that the city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on says baseball won't necessarily be the right investment in Wilmington. The only scientific poll done on the issue says a huge majority of residents don't want to pay tax dollars to build a stadium. Trask/Flywheel pulled its private funding, which now leaves no baseball deal on the table. Mandalay apparently is being difficult to work with - setting unreasonable deadlines - even wanting to fine the city $50,000 A DAY if you agree to the next proposal but don't get it done in time. Are these the kind of people the city wants to work with? Help us understand why the city continues to explore this project?

2) Did the city ever sit down with the private financiers to work on a compromise?

3) Why do you think Mandalay wrote up a second lease agreement like that? Is that a normal negotiating tactic? Kevin O'Grady said Tuesday night that Mandalay was one of the premier companies to work with. Do you all really feel that way after reading the new lease agreement?

4) Why do you think Rich Neumann now refuses to talk with the media about the project? He was very open with us when this project started.

5) Why do you and the rest of council keep agreeing to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to explore a project the majority of residents say they don't want?

6) Sterling told you Tuesday night that some of the $355,000 approved would have to go to another feasibility study. You just did a feasibility study. Help us understand why we would need another one? Would you need to rehire NSS to work on more negotiations?

7) Where did the $40,000 to get the McCoy/Fulton proposition on the November ballot come from. The Board of Elections Director told us it would cost less than $1,000. Did anyone from the city call the Board of Elections to confirm the number? Why didn't you question the amount Tuesday night?

8) Where did the bond referendum idea come from? Wouldn't that still mean city residents would ultimately be paying for the stadium? There's no way the stadium would be completed by 2014 if it's voted on in November, right?

9) The Downtown site most likely will have some brownfield issues? Raeford Trask has said he isn't in favor of building on his land on Eastwood. Why is it still being talked about?

10) Capstrat is a very large powerful public relations firm in Raleigh. What is its role in this project?

SALES TAX

1) Where did this extra $1 million sales tax come from? Why are we just now learning about it? Why weren't the hotel and baseball project budgeted for so the city could save this extra $1 million?

2) With that much extra sales tax, why was the city so adamant to annex Monkey Junction?

HOTEL

1) Sterling told you Tuesday night that the city was aware of the extra $137,000 needed to move forward on the Convention Center, but didn't include it in the budget. How does that happen?

2) Why are we having to spend another $137,000 to sell land behind the Convention Center? We're paying to sell land?

3) Why has this project been so difficult to button up?

4) If things stay the same, the hotel occupancy tax that is paying for the Convention Center will run out in 3-5 years. If this hotel project doesn't work out, will residents be on the hook for the Convention Center?

BUDGET

1) One of the city's main "normal" expenses is usually maintenance of roads, sidewalks, etc., yet you needed to raise taxes this year to complete this basic expectation of city government. What is the city spending money on that you have to raise taxes just to maintain roads and sidewalks?

BRING IT DOWNTOWN

1) The Parking Department's budget is at least $200,000 upside down this year, yet City Council took $60,000 that was "earmarked" for marketing downtown and gave it to a downtown group. How does the city give away money which technically doesn't exist?

GENERAL

The feedback we're getting here at the station is that there is a lack of vision on this council. It is going against the wishes of a majority of residents. We're falling behind on basic necessities but are wild about building sexier projects like the Convention Center, the Cross City Trail and now a ballpark. Is now really the right time to build a ballpark?

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