A controversial policy limiting pedestrian access to FedEx Field during Washington Redskins games will get its first public airing this week as Prince George's County officials attempt to comply with a judge's ruling that the restrictions were adopted illegally behind closed doors.
The meeting, scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday at the County Administration Building, comes five months after the restrictions were thrown out by County Circuit Court Judge Sheila R. Tillerson-Adams, who ruled in favor of fans who sued to overturn the policy.
The hearing will be conducted by a panel of Prince George's, team, stadium and community representatives formed by the County Council in 1996 to oversee public safety issues at the Landover facility. This panel -- known as the "coordinating group" -- first adopted the pedestrian rules in August without public notice, a move that Tillerson-Adams found violated Maryland's Open Meetings Act and necessitated a public meeting.
"The reason it was overturned was because it wasn't done in public," said Jim Keary, a county spokesman. "So this is a requirement of the law."
However, J.P. Szymakowicz, an attorney for one of the fans who sued the county, said the coordinating group might convene in private Friday, which could violate the Open Meetings Act. A notice on the county Web site said that "part of the meeting may be conducted in closed executive session if issues of public security are addressed and the Coordinating Group determines that public discussion would constitute a risk to the public or to public security."
Szymakowicz said that "closing a sidewalk doesn't relate to public safety or security. In the end, if they want to play those games, we'll be back in court," he said.
The Redskins provide 25,000 close-in parking spots for season-ticket holders and 5,800 at the cash lots operated outside the stadium on land leased by the Redskins.
But many fans without season tickets had been accustomed to walking Redskins Road to enter the stadium. The coordinating group decided last year that pedestrian access had to be discouraged for safety reasons. And with the construction of the new Capital Centre mall on property previously used for parking, some fans were forced to use distant cash lots and take shuttle buses.
After losing the lawsuit, the county asked the judge to keep the traffic policy in place for the season's final home game. The request was denied.
Keary said it was "a possibility" that the group would vote to approve the policy at the meeting. The official notice about the meeting states that "the group will review and may modify the Parking and Traffic Management Plan, including vehicular and pedestrian access to FedEx Stadium, the surrounding parking lots and adjacent public roadways from all off-site locations."
However, Szymakowicz said that if the group makes any policy decision -- whether in public or private -- it would also be in violation of the judge's order. The order, signed in December, said the coordinating group "has no authority to alter or amend" county code.
"Any attempt by the coordinating group would be in violation of the judge's order," Szymakowicz said.
The authority to change the policy, Szymakowicz said, rests with the county Department of Public Works and Transportation.
Redskins spokesman Karl Swanson said the team would follow Prince George's County concerning the best traffic plan and how the policy should be presented to the public.
"The safety of fans is number one on the priority list," Swanson said. "Whatever Prince George's County feels needs to be done to make that a safe area, we're with them 100 percent."
Prince George's County will also be soliciting comments from the public at Friday's meeting, going "one step further" than required by last year's court ruling, according to the county spokesman.
"We're hoping people who have comments come in and talk about it," Keary said.