The State Attorney-General’s Open Meetings Compliance Board thinks there may well have been secret meetings in 2013 on the downtown hotel procurement, and does not accept the City’s denials. The Board in a May 11 ruling says “We do no know what happened” by way of closed meetings but it thinks it likely that meetings occurred that were structured to evade the requirement that they be public.
“Ordinarily, a public body’s denial that it met secretly would suffice for our limited advisory purposes. Here, however, the City Board’s denial is qualified. On one hand, the City Board states that the complaint is too vague for it to address, and, on the other, the City Board offers the department head’s affidavit that he did not meet secretly with the City Board – at least, not in a meeting that did not ‘comply fully’ with the Act. In any event, from the submissions, various inferences could be drawn. One such inference is that the task force or staff discussed matters in the presence of fewer than a quorum of the City Board, such that no ‘meeting’ occurred for purposes of the Act.”
The issue is how the decision was made within City government to jettison the competition-friendly two-stage procurement outlined at the public Mayor & Board of Aldermen Workshop meeting on the hotel project July 31, 2013. Although followup meetings were promised at that summer workshop no such public meeting occurred before the Request for Proposals (RFP) emerged from the City Purchasing Office, February 20, 2014. That RFP severely limited potential bidders by requiring that they come with legal title over one of four specified sites, two of which were unavailable anyway. It also specified such a short time for proposals to be worked up that, realistically, only those with inside information could submit.
One Alderman at the time, Shelley Aloi says that there were private meetings of the Aldermen with Richard Griffin, City project director but that the two speakers in the summer meeting outlining the two-stage competitive procurement — consultant John Gibb of JLL and Earl Robbins chair of the Hotel Advisory Committee (HAC) — were excluded from the followup closed-door meetings with Griffin. Others simply denied any meetings that violated the Open Meetings Act, begging the question put to the Board.
The state Board comments that despite the plan to exclude the public from followup meetings on the developer procurement as indicated in the Frederick News-Post report August 1, 2013 “no one sought our guidance in 2013, either prospectively or otherwise.”