Weak Week for the Redskins

July 18, 1994

The Washington Redskins football club did not enhance its image in the first week of zoning hearings on its proposed Laurel stadium. Now it's second down and still 10 yards to go.

After months of assurances that it is a good corporate citizen that can be trusted to plan and manage an enormous project, the Redskins organization came across as an group that doesn't have its act together.

First it came dangerously close to watching Anne Arundel Administrative Hearing Officer Robert C. Wilcox throw out its zoning request because of questions about whether the Redskins organization is registered to do business in Maryland. Mr. Wilcox ended up siding with the team since it did register -- just two days before the hearing began.

But, like us, he found it amazing that any applicant for a project of this scope would wait so long to take care of such a fundamental requirement. At best, he said, the team's legal standing was "held together with bubble gum and paper clips" -- not a ringing endorsement.

Its corporate standing was not the only thing the Redskins neglected until the last minute. The group didn't give the county its alternative site plan until two days before the hearing, either.

Mr. Wilcox refused to look at the team's proposal because he wants the county to get a chance to review it first. Then he postponed the hearing for two days to give opponents time to review documents the Redskins waited too long to turn over.

None of this may have a practical bearing on the outcome of this hearing; last-minute corrections and unexpected delays are common in large zoning cases. Still, such glitches are damaging to the Redskins. At the very least they create an impression of disorganization and subterfuge. They do nothing to inspire confidence. People are left to wonder: If the Redskins can't navigate a zoning hearing better than this, how can anybody expect the group to build a 78,600-seat stadium?

Perhaps owner Jack Kent Cooke is not overly concerned about such skepticism. After all, he doesn't need to win public trust to build this stadium -- he only has to meet zoning requirements. But since Mr. Cooke was the one who decided on the Laurel site, he has an obligation to prove his organization deserves our trust. He has marshaled a major public relations effort, telling people not to worry -- his group knows what it is doing.

Maybe Mr. Cooke thinks so. But his minions didn't show it last week.

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