Corporation Counsel Peter Nolin, a former Common Council member, said he suggested having the committee sign a confidentiality agreement.It's an interesting position that does not quite jive with the move towards transparent government. Recently in New Jersey (The Times of Trenton Publishing Corporation v. Lafayette Yard Community Development Corporation, 368 N.J. Super. 425, 846 A.2d 659 (App. Div. 2004); April 30, 2004) a court case was brought by a newspaper after its reporter was barred from attending meetings held by a redevelopment company formed after a New Jersey municipality granted public land to it for redevelopment.
He said members of city boards typically assume that every meeting they hold has to be open to the public and all information shared with constituents, but, "This is a different procedure," Nolin said.
The agreement tells to committee members their work is exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act and is the property of the city and the developers. (source: Norwalk Advocate)
Issues that surfaced as a result of that case rested on the issue that redevelopment is a governmental function for the benefit of the public, regardless of how it is undertaken. It is clear that private companies would prefer not to conduct business through hearings and other formal proceedings. Although transparency is cumbersome and sometimes impractical, it is important to identify how and what critical decisions are being made even if they wouldn’t otherwise be subject to public scrutiny.
The so-called land disposition agreements typically outline project specifics, such as the amount of affordable housing, use of minority and women-owned construction companies and financing. They are also the basis for a developer's employing the city's powers of eminent domain. (source: Norwalk Advocate)Redvelopment's own comments about the confidentiality agreement show that the public interests are exactly what is being negotiated.
"But we're expecting a level of confidentiality associated with both the work product and the discussions," Redevelopment Director Timothy Sheehan said. "To be debating issues in public that might not ultimately end up in the (land disposition agreements) doesn't seem like a benefit to the public. Nor does it seem like a productive use of time and resources." (source: Norwalk Advocate)Over $1 billion of development projects are slated for Norwalk in the next months.
Over the next year, approvals probably will be sought for the West Avenue redevelopment plan with developer Stanley Seligson; the Head of the Harbor Plan at Wall Street with M.F. DiScala & Co.; the Isaacs Street redevelopment plan (also along Wall Street) with Poko Partners; and amendments to an existing land disposition agreement for the Reed-Putnam Riverwalk urban renewal project with the Spinnaker Cos.The committee includes Council President Michael Coffey, Majority Leader Carvin Hilliard, Mayor Richard Moccia, Planning, Common Council Minority Leader Douglas Hempstead, Common Council member Matt Miklave, Commission Chairman Walter Briggs and Redevelpment Chairman Paul Jones.
Keeping negotiations confidential during the process may be more efficient, but permanently keeping the process secret is not good government.
The Norwalk Advocate Officials move to keep development talks confidential, By Brian Lockhart October 29 2006