Moyer quiet on Market House

Council frustrated in efforts to learn more about failed lease with grocer

October 12, 2005|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Alderwoman Louise Hammond has demanded for weeks an opportunity to publicly confront Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and her top aides on the collapsed deal to bring a New York grocer to Market House.

The way events played out Monday night, Hammond might not get that chance before she leaves office.

At a council work session where Market House was on the agenda, Moyer did not take her seat at the head of the city council for 40 minutes.

Her conspicuous absence delayed discussion on the broken agreement between the city and New York-based grocer Dean & DeLuca. It left Hammond, a Democrat, and Sheila M. Tolliver, another alderwoman who will step down shortly after the Nov. 8 election, pondering when they could question Moyer and others within her administration to their satisfaction.

"It's inexcusable that the mayor scheduled this meeting and didn't attend," said Tolliver, a Democrat, a few minutes after the meeting convened.

Moyer, also a Democrat, has sought to put the issue behind her as she seeks re-election next month. After two allies on the council came to her defense much later in the night, the mayor made it clear that she will not easily give in to her critics' requests.

Hammond again asked Moyer if she could question the mayor's personnel overseeing the bidding process at a future council meeting.

"People who want to be here can be here," Moyer told her. "Those who don't want to, don't."

The only Moyer administration official who testified Monday night on Market House during the 90-minute hearing was City Administrator Robert Agee, who defended the handling of the collapsed deal.

No one knew precisely where the mayor was when the hearing began at 6 p.m. Because of her absence, the council agreed to first discuss the annexation of federal property - including the Naval Academy - and then focus on Market House.

Moyer's spokeswoman Jan Hardesty, who appeared at the work session a short time later, said the mayor "had a prior personal engagement." When pressed, Hardesty said that Moyer was watching the U.S. Boat Show changeover, where the sailboats leave and the powerboats arrive around City Dock.

Moyer arrived while Agee was summarizing public documents about the bidding process for Market House that date to 2003, many of them e-mail exchanges between officials with Annapolis and the grocer. Agee denied accusations that the city knew as early as last November that Dean & DeLuca would back out of its lease proposal with the city.

Some council members have contended that Moyer's administration kept the public in the dark about the failed negotiations.

The council approved a 20-year lease between the city and Dean & DeLuca for the site in May, but the space remained empty.

Alderman Joshua J. Cohen, a Democrat, asked Agee why the administration wasn't more forthcoming over the summer about the status of the agreement.

"Why were you giving a consistent message that everything was on track?" Cohen said.

Agee said he didn't perceive the negotiations were off track at the time, and he didn't want to risk compromising them by making public comments that relations between the two sides were uneven.

The administrator referred to the situation as "a close call."

City leaders confirmed in August that Dean & DeLuca had backed out of its lease and was transferring it to Annapolis Seafood Co. But by the end of the month, Annapolis Seafood owner Nick Bassford asked to be released from the agreement.

Last month, the council voted 9-0 to void the lease and restart the bidding process. Council members will receive recommendations on seven new proposals to take over the 5,000-square- foot space along City Dock at their next hearing.

Those suitors are Site Realty Group, which operates Eastern Market in Washington and lost in the previous bidding process to Dean & DeLuca; the New Market Group, led by Annapolis business partners Gavin Buckley and Jody Danek; H.B. Properties, led by Annapolis restaurateur Harvey Blonder; O'Leary's Seafood in Annapolis; Foundos Realty in Annapolis; Siganos Management of Northfield, N.J.; and Caribee Associates LLC of Ocean City.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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