Sunday, November 05, 2006

BDC Will Answer to You and Me

Wait? Baltimoreans actually own our city?

Despite fighting efforts to open their meetings an records to the public, a judge ruled earlier this week that the Baltimore Development Corp. must do just that.

The ruling is a victory for Baltimoreans who care about the direction of development in this city. The BDC makes influential decisions that impact the very character of our neighborhoods and downtown. From the West side redevelopment to the size and financing of buildings, the BDC is one of the most powerful players in Baltimore development.

Unfortunately, it has been strongly opposed to public input, as demonstrated in a previous League post. Forcing the organization to comply to the state's Open Meetings and Public information acts, guidelines which the Court of Appeals has ruled apply, means the organization will likely become more responsive to citizens concerns and less responsive to developers' profit margins.

Without this public oversight, BDC has made some questionable decisions indicating it might not always have the public's best interests in mind. For example, during the contentious debate over the convention center hotel, BDC submitted a plan which called for the project to be financed with public funds because no private investors had made any offers. In the weeks after the proposal was made public, however, numerous private firms stepped forward to offer private investment schemes. In another incident that sparked a City Council investigation, BDC improperly sold pieces of property for $2 million less than their appraised values to developers.

Hopefully suspicious decisions like these and others will become less common once BDC knows its in the public spotlight.

The case has implications for the gubernatorial race. Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democrat running for the state's top job, has criticized Republican incumbent Robert Ehrlich for making secret deals that benefit developers at the expense of the public. O'Malley points to a botched land deal in which the Governor agreed to sell 836 acres of protected state land to a politically connected developer. Despite these attacks, O'Malley himself supported the BDC in this case, in effect arguing that a semi-private organization can make important decisions about development without the oversight of citizens. Hypocrisy defined.


from The League: Reassembled

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