Transparency at BDC

November 16, 2006

The directors of the Baltimore Development Corp. need an attitude adjustment. If they didn't understand the recent Maryland Court of Appeals ruling, let us remind them: The city's premier economic development arm is a public agency. And as such, it better start acting like one.

In comments published in The Sun yesterday, BDC President M. J. "Jay" Brodie indicated that many of the agency's operations would be protected from public scrutiny because they would fall under exemptions in the state's open-meetings and public information laws. That suggests the BDC board and Mr. Brodie intend to invoke the laws' exemptions every chance they get. There is an arrogance in that assessment that is objectionable and in conflict with the spirit of Maryland's appellate court ruling.

What the BDC board and staff should be doing is operating from the premise that everything is in the public purview unless their lawyers advise them otherwise. The idea that the BDC was questioning whether it could release its agenda for today's 7:30 a.m. meeting shows just how much attitude adjustment it needs.

As the BDC pursues redevelopment projects throughout the city, it will have to safeguard sensitive, deal-making-or-breaking information in order to accomplish its goals. The law allows for that. The BDC wouldn't be doing its job if it didn't engage in preliminary, exploratory discussions with potential developers that require some confidentiality. But the agency also negotiates lucrative tax breaks and subsidies - items of keen public interest. The more open the process, the more confidence communities and neighborhoods will have in the agency's very important work.

As a government body, the BDC should engage the community in its work and afford the public ample opportunity to participate, not find every opportunity to hide behind closed doors. The BDC board chairman, Arnold L. Williams, should follow his instincts and push for openness. Mr. Brodie says the agency will follow the state's open-meetings and public information laws. But rather than exploit its loopholes, it should confer with other city agencies on the extent of information made readily available.

Mayor Martin O'Malley has trumpeted transparency in government throughout his administration. Before the governor-elect heads for Annapolis, he should ensure that the city's economic development agency follows his lead.

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