Judge says BDC can continue secret decision-making

Lawsuit by west-side businesses challenged closed-door discussions

June 10, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge rejected yesterday a lawsuit challenging the closed-door decision-making process of the city's economic development agency, a decision the lawyer for the plaintiffs immediately appealed.

Circuit Judge W. Michel Pierson ruled that Baltimore Development Corp. does not have to follow the state's Open Meetings and Public Information acts.

In his ruling, Pierson determined that BDC was not created by the city and "remains a private corporation with a budget that is independent from City control." Furthermore, he concluded that the agency cannot be terminated by government and that "its actions are not subject to government veto or control."

"For these reasons, BDC is not a unit or instrumentality of the City of Baltimore," Pierson wrote.

Attorney John C. Murphy, who sued BDC on behalf of nine west-side businesses that stand to lose their shops as part of a redevelopment project, filed an appeal in Circuit Court yesterday. He also filed a motion asking the Court of Special Appeals to expedite the process.

Murphy's clients want court action to void a Nov. 18 decision made by BDC's board at a private meeting during which it decided to recommend four developers for the extensive west side redevelopment known as the superblock.

BDC declined to give the plaintiffs copies of the developers' proposals and did not respond to a request for information about scheduled meetings, according to the suit.

Yesterday, Murphy said he was hopeful that his clients will prevail in an appeal.

"The freedom of information acts were passed to provide citizens with access to the workings of government and the ability to attend public meetings," said Murphy. "It's hard to conceive of a case where this principal is more important than in a case where people's properties are being taken away from them and they're having to move their businesses."

BDC has argued that as a quasi-public agenda, it is not subject to the same scrutiny that other government agencies are.

Assistant City Solicitor Joshua Auerbach, who represented BDC in the case, praised the decision.

"The BDC has been doing good work for the city of Baltimore for almost 50 years, and there's a certain sense at the BDC and here at the city that if it ain't broken, don't fix it," said Auerbach. "This is a good development for the city because it allows a good arrangement to keep going as it's been going for a long time."

Jerald Goldfine, chief financial officer of Carmel Realty Associates, the lead plaintiff in the suit, questioned BDC's being represented by a city attorney in the suit.

"We feel that on appeal we will be successful since there is such a close relationship between the BDC and the city," said Goldfine. "The BDC was represented by a city attorney. I don't think a city attorney would be willing to represent me if I asked them."

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