Complaint to state Open Meetings Compliance Board about backroom deal on City procurement

COMPLAINT: Failure to conduct an open meeting of the Mayor & Board of the City of Frederick to present, discuss, and vote on RFP14J, the procurement of a developer for the City-sponsored downtown hotel

A review of City of Frederick meeting records shows that an important City procurement ‘Request for Proposals, Downtown Frederick Hotel & Conference Center, Frederick, RFP #14-J’ (RFP14J) was issued February 19, 2014 by the City Purchasing Department on behalf of the downtown Frederick Hotel Advisory Committee (HAC) without an open public meeting of the Mayor & Board of Aldermen (M&B.) The RFP concerns a major project last costed at $84 million of which some $31 million is to be City, County and State money. According to the City’s Resolution on Purchasing Policies and Procedures as detailed in a Manual of the same title for contracts of $50,000 or more “the solicitation document along with all backup shall be submitted…for approval by the Mayor and Board of Aldermen” (p36.) This did not occur at any open meeting of the Mayor and Board between a Workshop on July 31, 2013 and the issuance of RFP14J on February 19, 2014. According to Shelley Aloi, an Alderman at the time, the Mayor and Board instead had several closed meetings with HAC secretary, and head of the City Department of Economic Development, Richard Griffin about RFP14J.

Issues of considerable public importance were at stake. Should the City be sponsoring a hotel and providing tens of millions of dollars of public funds to one favored developer? Should the City be outsourcing specifications for its hotel, the choice of the site and selection of a developer to a Hotel Advisory Committee meeting behind closed doors though appointed by the Mayor, yet represented to you in a previous case as being a creature of the local Chamber of Commerce? Should the City be involved in competing with other hotels not favored with public support? Should the City own the land for this hotel?

There were more narrowly focused issues of public policy involved in the procurement also that deserved open discussion and a public vote. At the July 31, 2013 Workshop the HAC consultant hired by the City, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) outlined a two-stage procurement as likely to produce the best value for the City. It would select and secure a site first, then in the second stage issue an RFP for proposals from developers for that site. The two-stage procurement, JLL argued in a report, would produce many proposals from developers. Instead without any open meeting the City decided behind closed doors on a competition-unfriendly single stage procurement in which only developers with their own site — and only four sites were eligible – could make proposals. RFP14J was also issued with a six-week deadline further discouraging competition. I submit all this was properly a matter to be decided at an open public meeting of elected officials.

Peter Samuel, Frederick MD 21701

Tel 240 446 9736 petersamuel@mac.com

PS I am a writer following this project mainly because the local newspaper has been compromised in its coverage and editorials by standing to benefit from its derelict old site being chosen for the hotel, and also because I find the malfeasance fascinating. I have posted most of my writing on this to a website frederickhotelboondoggle.us

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