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City Lawyers Close Curtain On Theater Development Transparency

March 7th, 2017 · 22 Comments · Analysis and Comment, Development and Zoning, News and Events

City lawyers are like gatecrashers dropping a turd in the party punch bowl of good news. Bridgeport’s boarded-up Downtown twin jewels Poli Palace and Majestic theaters have finally–after 40 years–received some attention based on the city’s Office of Economic Development issuing a “Request for Expressions of Developer Interest” for a development plan vision. Four potential developers have responded. Thus far, only city officials know the names of the entities and the content of their proposals. That’s because the City Attorney’s Office has closed the curtain on OIB’s request to simply release the company names of the competing parties.

Why?

Well, lawyers fear, according to part of their argument, the good names of the companies could be soiled in the comments section of OIB. OIB posters bite, they argue. So much for positive public disclosure. This is a blanket nondisclosure by city lawyers; it’s not specific to OIB, but that was one of the assertions.

Lawyers for the city are not in the risk business. They are paid to protect city interests, although that is not always the end result. What’s the real risk of simply disclosing names of competing entities? It does not occur to them that broadcasting the potentially good news of theater interest coupled with the bright light of scrutiny could create even greater competition and a better deal for the city.

Is the city required to list details of the proposals at this stage of the process? No, not until the process is completed and a development deal sealed, according to the Connecticut Freedom of Information Act. Is the city permitted to release information at this stage of the process. Yes, according to the same act.

From CT FOI Act:

“Responses to any request for proposals or bid solicitation issued by a public agency or any record or file made by a public agency in connection with the contract award process, until such contract is executed or negotiations for the award of such contract have ended, whichever occurs earlier, provided the chief executive officer of such public agency certifies that the public interest in the disclosure of such responses, record or file is outweighed by the public interest in the confidentiality of such responses, record or file.”

Understandably, businesses include in the solicitation responses confidential company information. But for the city to not simply release the names of the competing entities?

OIB’s request for release of response names started with professional staff which then referred to the City Attorney’s Office. OIB made its pitch. A team of city lawyers declared they were against releasing the information. Public dissemination to a site such as OIB could be unproductive to the process. Associate City Attorney Mark Anastasi, the senior member of the legal office, is historically loathe to releasing information to the public, if it can be avoided. The office advised information could only be released upon authority of the mayor.

OIB reached out to Mayor Joe Ganim who responded he sees no problem with releasing the names. His communications team as well wants to disclose names to drive as much positive information about the process. But when the mayor asked the lawyers what’s wrong with releasing the business names, they pushed back. As a result, we are in limbo.

The city covered its butt in the solicitation package that included the following language under “Treatment of Confidential Information.”

Financial statements, proposals and other business confidential information may not be subject to disclosure under the Connecticut Freedom of Information law, Section 1-210(b)(5)(A) of the Connecticut General Statutes (FOIA), if such information constitutes “trade secrets” as defined therein. If a Respondent desires certain information to be protected from disclosure under FOIA as a trade secret, the Respondent should clearly identify such information, place such information in a separate envelope appropriately marked, and submit such information with its response. Such information shall be retained by OPED in confidence, shall only be viewed by City employees and consultants having a “need to know,” and shall be returned to all unsuccessful Respondents, or will be destroyed, upon the conclusion of the City’s selection process.

If such information is sought to be disclosed, OPED will afford notice to the party or parties whose information is being sought so that each has an opportunity to dispute disclosure in a court of law at such party’s sole cost and expense. The City shall protect information from disclosure or refuse to disclose such information unless it (i) is already known; (ii) is in the public domain through no wrongful act of the City; (iii) is received by the City from a third party who was free to disclose it; (iv) is properly disclosable under FOIA; or (v) is required to be disclosed by a court of law.

OIB, at this point of the process, has asked only for the names of the competing parties.

Mayor Joe Ganim has the opportunity to overrule city lawyers in the cause of taxpayer transparency. Will he?

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22 Comments so far ↓

  • Ron Mackey

    C’mon man. Lennie, you know the game, pressure is applied and then Mayor Ganim will say yes, put out the information and Hamilton Burger comes behind the mayor and he goes in the opposite direction. How many times have we seen this act?

  • Bob Halstead

    OIB is coming as close to being an activist organization that is taken seriously than any other in the City. There is currently no voice for the community activists or historic preservation. It wasn’t always this way! Look at Playhouse Square in Cleveland to see how community participation and civic pride was the mover for restoration of its Five theaters!

  • Ben Henson

    There are some really great people working really hard for you behind those walls, but this is just silly. The City issued a Request for Expressions of Developer Interest, which is not an RFP or a bid, and that is basically the whole point of doing so–to avoid entering the world of procurement and just see if there are any interested partners out there (and participate in informal/closed-door negotiations prior to going down that path). Nothing is preventing the City from sharing the names of the alleged partners other than itself.

    I think the reason I’m put off (I don’t really care who the potential Developers are) re: the City’s response is the response from the Attorney’s Office. It should not be citing language that doesn’t apply to the process to justify withholding information. Perhaps there are valid reasons for keeping this secret (like what, though?), but the language they’re pointing to is irrelevant unless the City had issued an actual RFP and kicked off the procurement process. This isn’t that.

    Maybe there is some language somewhere that pertains to the RFEDI process? That’s a little bit of a joke, in case you’re wondering. At this point in the game, the City and these developers are basically just getting to know one another, so to speak, but those of you who care (and even those who don’t) about how the City spends what were once your dollars deserve a higher level of service and more respect from the City–in this case the Attorney’s Office–than you’re getting.

    • Lisa Parziale

      I don’t know if G2 reads OIB, but if he doesn’t someone in his close inner circle does. So here’s my request to G2, override your City Attorney, this doesn’t look good for you if you don’t. You can’t fault individuals, myself included, for viewing this good-cop, bad-cop, as a way to withhold requested information from OIB. This blog is more legitimate than the mainstream publication some subscribe to. Some comments get edgy, including mine, but for the most part 75% of what’s shared either by opinion, commentary or true facts not made available to the public are available on OIB. Kudos to Lennie for making it possible. So, whoever has Joe’s ear, have him read these comments.

  • John Marshall Lee

    Big deal, or not?
    Seems we must wait for G2 (with advice of Counsel) to be open, accountable and transparent. as well as honest.
    If more information were routinely shared with taxpayers (including the Council representatives), the climate would be better, I suggest. Better questions would come with better answers, I suggest. What do you think?

    In 2015 Bob Halstead, concerned about the future of this property moved action in the Council to spend $30,000 for some interior protection. Out of office one year later, he saw the City spend in excess of $100,000 to provide a “Bra and Tiara,” in the form of safety netting to the Old Lady of Main Street. Did something fall from the building that could potentially injure a passerby? (You know the crowds that pass by the jersey barriers daily, don’t you?)

    Risky situations are to be avoided, certainly, but is the City dealing with more or less risky business in recent years? It’s a fair question because one of the largest increases in Department expenses shown on the Open Budget site is that for City Attorney. The gain would not be for personnel salary and benefits where there has been some savings. However, how about the expense of outside counsel? How about the settlements by category? Build some trust with the taxpayers and share the data? Don’t we have a role to play before the end of the day? And while G2 is gathering in the bucks for a future campaign somewhere, others are leaving town or working harder to meet the increase in taxes HE INCREASED, AFTER CAMPAIGNING ON THE WORDS “STOP RAISING TAXES.” Will the Council pay more attention to the budget this year? Time will tell.

  • Lisa Parziale

    John my friend, my comments are short and to the point. There’s also a lot of common-sense to them. I’m not so naive as to expect a response or change of mind, but it doesn’t hurt to hope for a miracle.

  • Frank Gyure

    Thank you Grimaldi and OIB.

  • Donald Day

    Wouldn’t a serious display of transparency be if the Mayor or designee released the names of the entities that have submitted successful bids for this project? There are more than a few OIB posters who will have enough information on those entities to allow for the flow of public information to Bridgeport residents.

  • Steven Auerbach

    Sorry guys, I do not agree with any of the demands on the blog. Do you need to know if it were the Trefz family, Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson. Ashford and Simpson, Forstone or Myself? Who cares?

    I will care when the city has narrowed down the proposals to legitimate developers who are financially capable of seeing the project to fruition.

    Do we really need any bloggers adding their 2 cents? There are people who have jobs to oversee the project. They get paid. There are lawyers that are looking after the best interests of the city.

    These requests are not equal to the JML requests that do affect city residents. Most people on this blog do not patronize any venues downtown and many do not live in the city. We have waited 50 years for something to happen in this city. If Mayor Ganim gets a home run with this then kudos for him. Let’s be honest. Former Ganim supporters on this blog now wait daily for his demise. He doesn’t need to satisfy your curiosity.

    We have been hearing RFP’s for 40 years without results. We can wait a little more. Personally, I do not think any developer could care less what is said on this blog. This is an expensive business proposition. None of these proposals need to have their personal business put on display if they are only competing for the right to develop two very important parcels that can change the perception of downtown for the next five decades.

    Patience.

    • Ron Mackey

      Steve, c’mon man, taxpayers have a need to know who will be getting tax abatements from their taxes. What is the success rate compared to their failure rate in their past dealings, have there been legal claims against them or even criminal claims, we have a need and a right to know. Steve, keep cheering but follow the money.

  • Bob Walsh

    Steve,
    Don’t take this personally but I am sick and tired of you being the mayor’s personal cheerleader.
    There is nothing wrong with disclosing the names and personally with the history Ganim has in the city he should be the first one to do so.
    Anytime Ganim chooses secrecy over open and transparent the public will suspect he is up to no good. And they should.
    And anytime someone defends such action they are a pathetic excuse for an informed voter.
    So why don’t you put on your Joey Ganim cheerleader outfit, the one with the knee pads that read J G and get to work making the mayor feel good?

    • Steven Auerbach

      Sorry, Ron Mackey and Bob Walsh. Due to the very important position I now have with the city I cannot complain about Ganim like you guys. However, I can tell you the developers are awesome and it is very very exciting! I just can’t wait for the Trumpesque Press conference and Yes I will have to be there. In this case it will be mandatory.

  • Mojo

    List or no list, talk is still cheap, no? Going to need a lot of money and use if it happens! And I don’t mean the type of use places like the Klien, ex-Polka Dot Play House, Webster Arena, etc. don’t get. Bpt has proven time and time again you can build it but it does not mean they will come! There are other more important issues this city needs to concentrate on, like housing, business, jobs, education, crime, blight, etc.

  • Phil Smith

    Lennie,
    This argument is obviously nonsensical. When are you filing an FOI complaint?

    • LennieGrimaldi

      Phil, I spoke to a state FOI staff attorney. Unfortunately, an FOI complaint will not prevail because at this stage of the approval process the city is not “required” to release information although the FOI act “permits” it.

      • Joel Gonzalez

        Lennie, I posted two photos of the theater’s roof on my Facebook. I figured if the City wants to cover up names of developers interested in the theaters, covering up the roof leaks on the theaters should be the number-one priority. The roof damage was caused by the tornado that hit downtown and the lower East side years back. It should cost no more than $1,600, not $500,000 like for the much smaller leak on the Blue Fish Stadium roof.

  • Jimfox

    A request for proposal (RFP) is a document that solicits proposal, often made through a bidding process, by an agency or company interested in procurement of a commodity, service or valuable asset, to potential suppliers to submit business proposals. It is submitted early in the procurement cycle, either at the preliminary study, or procurement stage.
    An RFP is used where the request requires technical expertise, specialized capability, or where the product or service being requested does not yet exist and the proposal may require research and development to create whatever is being requested.
    The RFP presents preliminary requirements for the commodity or service, and may dictate to varying degrees the exact structure and format of the supplier’s response. Effective RFPs typically reflect the strategy and short/long-term business objectives, providing detailed insight upon which suppliers will be able to offer a matching perspective.
    Similar requests include a request for quotation (RFQ), whereby the customer may simply be looking for a price quote, and a request for information (RFI), where the customer needs more information from vendors before submitting an RFP. An RFI is typically followed by an RFP or RFQ.

    (RFP2P)
    The Duck Test – If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.
    This has all the ear markings of an (RFP2P).
    In politics, pay to play refers to a system, akin to payola in the music industry, by which one pays (or must pay) money to become a player.
    Typically, the payer (an individual, business, or organization) makes campaign contributions to public officials, party officials, or parties themselves, and receives political or pecuniary benefit such as no-bid government contracts, influence over legislation, political appointments or nominations, special access or other favors. The contributions, less frequently, may be to nonprofit or institutional entities, or may take the form of some benefit to a third party, such as a family member of a governmental official.
    The phrase, almost always used in criticism, also refers to the increasing cost of elections and the “price of admission” to even run and the concern “that one candidate can far outspend his opponents, essentially buying the election.”

  • Andrew C Fardy

    What’s happening here is R Christopher Meyer and his gaggle of yes men and women are trying to figure a way to get this bid to a politically connected friend and make it all seem legal. Ganim2 is back to his old tricks.

    • Joel Gonzalez

      This is an example of why the City Attorney’s Office has ruled against the release of the developers’ names to OIB. Go back down that hole in the ground.

      • Andrew C Fardy

        I will, once you sweep it out and mop the floor. Joel, you really are an asshole. Say what you want from now on, you will not get a response.

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