A few days ago (9/30) The News-Post reported that I lodged a complaint with the state Open Meetings Compliance Board on the behind-closed-doors meetings of the city’s Hotel Advisory Committee. I’d like to explain why.The city of Frederick’s 26 other boards, commissions and committees and the mayor and Board of Aldermen all comply with the state’s Open Meetings Act — providing public notice of meetings, an agenda of subjects to be considered, and publishing minutes on decisions made. Most important, the meetings are open to be observed and reported, and some are televised.
Why has the Hotel Advisory Committee been an exception with no public notice, and all meetings closed in the six or seven years it has operated? It has clearly been doing public business — working with consultants to consider hotel sites, specifying the kind of hotel it considered necessary, planning the procurement of a developer, acting as the selection committee for the developer, doing public advocacy and lobbying lawmakers in Annapolis. The mayor appoints the committee’s chairman, and his director of economic development convenes the meetings as needed and provides an agenda. Membership includes city and county officials and five business groups that want the hotel.
The city acknowledges the committee’s documents are subject to inspection and release under the state Public Information Act (PIA), and my PIA filings have produced some valuable committee documents previously withheld. For example, Jones Lang LaSalle — the city’s lead consultant, for whom city taxpayers shelled out $335,000 — recommended a two-stage procurement in which the city first secured the site, then in the second stage opened the chosen site up for proposals from any developer. That way they could have gotten, say, six, eight or 10 proposals. The city on the advice of the committee limited sites to four, two of which were unavailable. And contrary to JLL’s suggestion, the RFP required that to bid a developer had to control a site. So they got only two bids. Other aspects of the procurement back in 2014 were irregular too, so it is understandable they wanted to operate behind closed doors.
Some $30 million of city, county and state funds is at stake. The public interest would be served by opening this project up to full public scrutiny.