City officials are now denying any responsibility for the downtown Hotel Advisory Committee (HAC.) In submissions to the State Attorney General’s Open Meetings Compliance Board they insisted the HAC is a ‘private body’ of the County Chamber of Commerce and any City or public officials who attended its closed door meetings were merely guest attendees, not real members.
According to the tall tale told by the City Attorney to the state board the City had no power whatever over the HAC, and all the statements by Mayor McClement and City departmental head Richard Griffin about it being a City initiative with City appointed chairmen in so many speeches, presentations, documents, interviews etc were so much loose talk.
Set aside the fact that HAC meetings occurred only when called by Griffin, that Griffin wrote the agendas for the meetings, and that Griffin gave most of the presentations on behalf of the HAC, and Griffin published lists of HAC membership which made no distinction between public and private HAC participants, and Griffin had his City staff do the housekeeping work for the HAC.
Set aside the fact too that consultants working for the HAC like Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) had their bills of $335,000 paid by the City. Set aside again the fact that the HAC met behind closed doors not in the offices of the Chamber of Commerce, or a Major Employer, or of the Downtown Partnership, or of the Tourism Council, but in City Hall.
Forget that when members of Frederick Preservation Trust moved to get a seat on the HAC to be a voice for historic preservation for a project in the historic district there was never any dispute that this was a decision for City Mayor Randy McClement (who denied them a seat.)
Given that Mayor McClement’s first HAC chairman Mark Gaver is currently in federal detention as a fugitive risk waiting trial on ten charges he engaged in bank fraud and money laundering to the tune of $50 million, it’s little wonder the City wants to rewrite HAC history and make the Chamber of Commerce the fall guy. Contrary to claims Gaver “disappeared almost as soon as he was appointed” (according to a City official last week) news archives show he was quoted extensively as HAC spokesman in the first two years of the HAC’s life. It was under Gaver’s chairmanship the HAC established the pattern of behind-closed-door meetings, and embarked on the road to a shady procurement.
No wonder the City wants to disown the HAC.
Mayor O’Connor has the new lines off pat
Incoming Mayor O’Connor is sticking to the new script laid down by
the County Attorney saying in a short statement yesterday to the Frederick News-Post that the OMCB’s opinion “was rendered against a body the City did not appoint” and that the findings of the State board “don’t really affect us.”
But there’s a problem.
The procurement of Plamondon was conducted by the HAC and the City-Plamondon MOU contract gives the HAC an ongoing role on behalf of the City. The first sentence of the Mayor’s cover letter for the RFP (Feb 2014) under which Plamondon was selected reads: “Dear Prospective Developer, The City of Frederick on behalf of the Downton Frederick Hotel Advisory Committee is pleased to accept proposals for the development of a privately owned and operations full service hotel…” etc
The HAC had specified the hotel. The HAC chose eligible sites. The HAC designed the procurement. The HAC supervised the work of lead procurement consultant JLL. The HAC was the selection committee whose members scored the two proposals. The RFP spelled this out on page 5: “Proposals shall be evaluated by the Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee composed of representatives of the City of Frederick and its partners.”
And so they were.
The City’s official procurement office was sidelined. And all the Mayor and Board did before endorsing the selection was listen to the HAC presentation given by HAC spokesman (only incidentally, of course, a City official) Richard Griffin. Just an attendee of the HAC, according to the City Attorney’s yarn, they could cite Griffin’s remark once in connection with a presentation that the HAC had the authority to proceed to develop the procurement on its own but they wanted the Mayor & Board to hear about the project’s progress as a matter of courtesy.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) of December 2015 laying out the contractual relationship between the City and Plamondon in its second paragraph states “Whereas the City in conjunction with the Downtown Frederick Hotel Advisory Committee (the ‘Committee’) wishes to facilitate through a public private partnership the development of a Downtown Hotel…”etc. This memorializes the HAC’s continued role.
That role’s specifics are spelled out on p4 of the MOU:
“4. Committee Review and Recommendation – The Developer shall seek and consider all input from the Committee in the design of the Project to ensure that it is in general accordance with the RFP Response. Developer will hold at least two (2) meetings with the Committee at critical phases of the design of the Project. These meetings are to occur at the schematic design phase and 50% design development. In addition, the Committee shall review the proposed final design and inform the Mayor and Board of Aldermen as to the Project’s general compliance with the RFP Response prior to approval of the Master Joint Development and Funding Agreement.”
We haven’t heard a peep out of the HAC or the City about Required Meeting One: the HAC-Plamondon meeting at the “schematic design phase” or Required Meeting Two, the meeting at the halfway (50%) design development point which must be about now. Plus the HAC is contractually required to review the proposed final design and advise the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on its compliance with the RFP. This one is in the future.
All okay behind closed doors apparently.
So according to the HAC-is-a-Chamber-of-Commerce-body theme laid down the City Attorney to avoid findings of violations of the state Open Meetings law, the City has outsourced to the local business group — any City attendees being mere ‘observers’ — the details of supervising the City government’s deal with the developer. And the MOU as the controlling legal framework for the City-developer deal requires a continued role for the HAC.
It can’t be buried in Mt Olivet Cemetery for a while yet.
Boondoggle coverage in Frederick News-Post
The Frederick News-Post’s coverage of the Open Meetings Compliance Board wasn’t bad in the body of their report. But the main clause of the headline and the lead sentence were a travesty — a gross misrepresentation. Any readers who glanced at the story were disgracefully misled by the News-Post’s misreporting.
The headline’s first clause read: ‘State board rules Hotel Advisory Committee did not violate Open Meetings Act…’ and the lead sentence read: “The state’s Open Meetings Compliance Board issued an opinion stating that Frederick’s Downtown Hotel Advisory Committee did not violate Maryland’s OpenMeetings Act by operating behind closed doors and without notice to the public.”
Simply false. Nowhere does the state Open Meetings Compliance Board rule that the City did not violate the Open Meetings Act.
That would have been a victory for the City and a defeat for me as complainant.
It didn’t happen. There wasn’t any “ruling.”
The Board say they cannot make a finding one way or the other. They use the following phrases: “the facts we have do not yield a clear answer…”, “we are unable to resolve….”, and “Our inability to resolve this matter…” They punted the issue. They said they couldn’t make a finding based on the facts they were able to establish. They suggested it needs a court case to determine the matter.
The body of their opinion, some of the best parts stuck in footnotes, suggested they found the City story confused and implausible. But they clearly said they needed more facts about the control and operations of the HAC to make a determination of a violation, or to reject it.
Read their opinion here: