Mayor defends BDC’s right to withhold consultant information

Development agency bars the public inspection of a strategic planning proposal

srb 12-11-13

Mayor Rawlings-Blake responds to media questions about the tightlipped BDC.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) has good reasons to withhold from the public the contents of a consultant’s strategic planning proposal.

“There are reasons and there are exceptions to the requirements for [public] disclosure,” the mayor said yesterday, “and I am sure they [the BDC] met one of them.”

She continued, “I would have to talk to them to find out, specifically, which one, but there are exceptions and they are for good reasons.”

In general, the mayor said, the BDC can withhold documents under the Maryland Public Information Act if the information “could put the city at a competitive disadvantage.”

The mayor was responding to a Brew article about the BDC’s refusal to disclose the contents of its $167,500 contract with a consultant who admitted to copying recommendations from its own reports.

Texas-based AngelouEconomics lifted long passages of a report for Lexington, KY., from plans prepared for other areas of the country. The consultant reimbursed Lexington $75,000 for the infraction at the request of its mayor.

No Vetting through the Board of Estimates

AngelouEconomics was recently selected, out of a pool of 15 firms, to conduct a similar strategic study about how Baltimore can attract businesses and create more jobs.

Brenda McKenzie was appointed as BDC's $204,000-a-year president last year. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Brenda McKenzie was appointed as BDC’s $204,000-a-year president last year. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Because funding for the report was funneled through the BDC, a non-profit corporation set up to provide economic development services for Baltimore city, the contract did not have to go through the Board of Estimates – and was not public disclosed.

So far, the BDC has refused to release the consultant’s proposal, or name the other firms that vied for the contract, or provide the range of prices submitted.

Such information is described by the agency as “confidential.”

Brenda McKenzie, appointed last year to the $204,00-a-year post as president of the BDC, has not been available for comment.

Violation of Open Meetings Act

In October, the BDC board, chaired by accountant Arnold Williams, was found in violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act for refusing to disclose topics discussed during a closed portion of its July public meeting.

“It appears that the board members unanimously adopted a motion to close a meeting without knowing why they were doing so, let alone informing the public,” the state Open Meetings Compliance Board ruled.

“We find that the BDC board violated the Act by meeting in closed session without first including in a written statement both the topics it intended to discuss and the need to discuss each secretly.”

The ruling was in response to a complaint by the Baltimore Business Journal. It does not come with any sanctions or penalties. The board has agreed to issue in the future a “statement of closing” of its meetings.

Here is an example of a typical meeting of the 15-member board, whose composition is split among business executives, bankers and city officials.

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  • bmorepanic

    Trust us, We’re the Government.*

    *Does not apply whenever we say it does not, or when one of our captive corporations, associations, consultants, contractors or other entities depending on the government for their revenue stream says so. We can launder as much money as we want to through quasi-public entities while singing hey nonnie, nonnie, no to the press when they want to know what we’re doing because competition (on bidding to write an analysis?!)

  • ecogordo

    Trust, but verify.Government is afraid of competition because it challenges the status quo. Make no mistake, Baltimore and every other city competes with the rest of the world for talent and talent knows and acts accordingly.

  • Lizzie 58

    The Mayor does not know the particulars of why BDC is claiming exception to releasing information to the City taxpayers about a study the taxpayers paid for, but she is sure that BDC has a darn good reason. The Mayor talks a lot about transparency. Is this what she thinks transparency is?

    Stupid is as stupid does. Whatever information BDC is refusing to release about Angelou Economics or its process in selecting them as the consultant must be a doozy. If the selection was made rationally and fairly, and in the best interests of the city taxpayers, why would BDC not share that analysis? What are they so afraid of that they cannot defend their decision to the taxpayers?

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