The facts are heavily on my side, I think, in contending that the Hotel Advisory Committee (HAC) under Mayor McClement has been violating state law (the Open Meetings Act) for seven years by meeting behind closed doors. But what if I’m wrong and the State’s Open Meetings Compliance Board finds for the City Attorney?
The big issue in contention is whether the HAC is a City (public) body, or whether as the City Attorney contends it is a Chamber of Commerce (private) body.
The many details of this argument are reported here:
If the City’s case is upheld by the State Board it will have said officially we the people in Frederick have been fooled all along. The City Attorney is saying: “The Mayor, the Director of Economic Development and the HAC Chairman may have said time and again that the HAC was a City body. They were speaking ‘informally’ err, politically, and politicians, well, you can’t ascribe to them scientific levels of accuracy.”
They’ll be saying in effect: “Everything we said about how the downtown hotel procurement was being done, was, candidly, a bunch of, well, untruths. As we have successfully persuaded the State Attorney General’s Open Meetings Compliance Board the HAC was really a contrivance of the Chamber of Commerce. We might have provided all the staffing. We might have paid for all the consultants, and given it verbal City endorsement.
“But now we come clean. All the time it was really a Chamber of
In its more detailed recounting of events the City is saying: “The business community were the ones who said: An upper-upscale hotel and a big conference center downtown is our highest priority. We need that to attract and retain top talent to Frederick, and it will make the occasional big meeting here more convenient for our members.
“They were the experts… well, at least, they were experts in what they wanted. Expert consumers. Back in 2008/2009 the Chamber quietly formed a Hotel Advisory Team to push the project. There was some kind of announcement apparently to Chamber members. Nothing got in the local newspapers. But City and County economic development officials were enthusiastic so they were included in this informal group from its inception.
“And so when Mayor McClement took office in early 2010, having campaigned to lead the development of the conference hotel, expecting to open the hotel by the end of his first term, he embraced the Chamber-created hotel development ’team’ as his partners. He agreed with his director of economic development Richard Griffin that the Chamber team should be beefed up. It would be given a public face by announcing the appointment of a local businessman to lead the HAC.
“The first Mayoral-appointed chair (Mark Gaver) however didn’t work out. He soon moved to Florida. So then Griffin found for the Mayor a retired ‘government and public affairs specialist’ (a lobbyist/spokesman) Earl Robbins. Also the Mayor added his own and the County’s Executive’s personal assistant and budget officers to membership of the group. Well not formal membership perhaps.
“The distinction between members and attendees doesn’t seem to have arisen until the fall of 2017 when a nuisance Complaint to the state Open Meetings Compliance Board forced us to come up with an explanation as to how the HAC wasn’t really a City entity, but it still has been a Chamber entity all along.
“So all the Mayor’s people simply attended the HAC, the Chamber-originated hotel advisory team (which had been renamed the hotel advisory Committee (HAC) on the City’s initiative, although in reality it was still a Chamber of Commerce body.”
“These changes provided political direction and we were able to present the HAC politically as the work of the Mayor and the City, so they could claim credit for its activity in so far as it achieved anything, which we are ever hopeful it will one day.
“In reality,” as the City Attorney has explained to the State Attorney-General’s Open Meetings Compliance Board ”the City and County representatives were mere attendees, not actual members of the HAC, so it remained at least in the imagination of the legally-minded: a Chamber of Commerce entity. Now the Mayor and Mr Griffin may have listed the city and county attendees as HAC members, but again it is unrealistic to hold such officials to — we love this phrase — scientific levels of accuracy.”
“It is of no relevance,” the City Attorney is saying, “that a City official, Richard Griffin summoned the meetings of the HAC, that Griffin wrote the meeting agendas and that he was the main organizer of the HAC effort. He was, after all, just doing his City job.
“Not relevant either that all the HAC meetings after the Mayor appointed Earl Robbins as chairman were held in rooms in City Hall. It was just a convenient location and the City was only helping the business special inter…err, its ‘partners’… better its ’community partners.’ “ (‘community’ being a positive rah-rah adjective to be liberally used, as Richard Griffin advises, to make special interests look positive.)
“Of no importance or relevance either to the HAC’s good standing as a Chamber body, entitled to conduct its business behind closed doors, was the City’s provision to the HAC of project consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (at a cost to City taxpayers of $335,000) or its being the major funder of the Chamber’s contracted lobbying effort in Annapolis (Greenwill) under the HAC umbrella.”
“To be sure, procurement of as City contractor is usually a City function and the City did formally issue the request for proposals (RFP) for this project,” the City says, “but the fact that the RFP was written by a Chamber of Commerce committee, the staging of the procurement was approved by a Chamber of Commerce committee, and the scoring of proposals was done by a Chamber of Commerce committee, well this is a little unusual. But nothing in State law or City code specifically prohibits such an outsourcing of procurement details by the City.”
“What could be neater,” the City is saying of a Chamber of Commerce HAC, “than having a representative agency of local business like the Chamber of Commerce’s hotel committee decide with the assistance of City staff and City-provided consultants what kind of hotel it wanted the City to support, and then by conducting the scoring, decide which particular local business would be the beneficiary of tens of millions of city, county and state taxpayer dollars.”
“Conflict of interest? Self-dealing? No way! Who could be so mean as to suggest such things?” PSam 2017.11.29