Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I'm a Hypocrite--Reason for Closed Session

In a recent story in Patch http://fredericksburg.patch.com/articles/closed-session-cleaves-council-considering-courts my name came up regarding a closed session for the parking deck. Some clarification is in order as well as a comment or two on what happened last night.

In regards to the parking deck the city received a proposal from Donely's Inc. for a five story pre-fab deck. No Request for Proposals (RFP) had been sent out by the city. After a lively public discussion, including public meetings, the scope of the project was changed to a smaller structure and design more in keeping with the character of downtown. At that point the city entered into contract negotiations with Donely's for a different project than what was proposed.

In regards to last night's closed session Council was being presented comparisons of the court facility proposals based on a public RFP which included required specs, and which had been presented in public sessions by the applicants which also included costs. It was made clear that there were no negotiations going on.

The only legitimate reason provided by the City Attorney to go into closed session was that there would be information presented regarding financial statements of the companies involved and information on claims and outstanding litigation involving the applicants. That was the only information that should have been considered for a closed session. There was no legitimate reason given for not holding the majority of this presentation in open session.

And let's look at the reasons given by Council members for keeping the rest of the meeting closed to the public:

--Council needs to talk behind closed doors before they openly debate big decisions like this. No contracts are to be awarded we are just going to ask questions.

--It is the responsibility of Council to use its authority to make decisions like this. We owe it to the taxpayers and the people who elected us to make significant decisions and get the best deal possible.

--Matt Kelly voted to go into closed session for the parking garage project.

Does anyone agree that these are legitimate reasons for a closed session?

There was no legitimate reason given for not holding the majority of this presentation in open session. A different situation that what occurred with the parking deck.

As the process for the parking deck has now been brought up I would invite anyone to search the FLS archives not only on the parking deck, but also the downtown hotel, and schools and compare the amount of public participation involved in those projects as opposed to what is now happening with the court process.

The city had a rancorous, and sometime contentions dialogue with the public which resulted in an award-winning garage /hotel and state of the art schools. Those who have to foot the bill have a right to participate in the process. Council is going out of its way to avoid public dialogue in regard to the courts. Why?

How much public involvement is enough?

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