Whatever Happened to the Library Lot Project? An Update

As readers of this blog know, we have been following the question of the Library Lot and the proposed conference center there for over a year.  (An index is on this page.) There was a flurry of activity about this time last year while the RFP Advisory Committee considered proposals in response to a Request for Proposals for the site (a new series on that history begins here).  Then there was a long dry period over the summer (discussed in the Signs and Portents post).  Finally,  information was obtained by the Ann Arbor Chronicle that an RFP Advisory Committee meeting was held on November 23, 2010.  The committee was reported (by a member, John Splitt, at a DDA board meeting in December) to have accepted the recommendation of the consultant, The Roxbury Group, to send a letter of intent to the Valiant Partners.  (See the account by the Chronicle.)

But since then, a mystery.  Every appearance was that the committee had met without public announcement and made a decision which was then not being explained. Was a letter being prepared? Had it been executed? Would it ever come to Council? Would the committee ever announce its findings in public?  Many of us who are interested in this question were sending emails and vainly checking the city RFP page for announcements over the last couple of months.

Finally, the clouds have parted.  The chair of the committee, CM Stephen Rapundalo, explained via email that the meeting was indeed posted (more about that in a minute) and has now made the minutes from the November 23 meeting available on the city website.  They are here.  There are several items of interest, much of which has been discussed in our (inexorably) lengthy series on the report.  But here is the key information:

“J. Splitt moved that the Committee accept the Consultant’s Report and direct staff to work with Valiant on a letter of intent that could be presented to Council, along with the recommendation of the advisory committee… Splitt, Teall and Rapundalo voted in the affirmative. Motion passed unanimously.”

(The minutes also make clear that only three members of the RFP advisory committee, CM Rapundalo, CM Teall, and John Splitt, were present.  Other persons present were Roger Fraser, City Administrator, and Susan Pollay, DDA Executive Director.)

Note that the members of the committee apparently made this recommendation solely on the basis of the consultant’s verbal report.  The written report, dated November 23 (the date of the meeting), unless it was circulated ahead of time, was apparently not scrutinized by the committee members.

Meeting posting and the Open Meetings Act

There has been a certain amount of comment lately in the press about the city’s notification successes and failures.  On the one hand, the city has instituted a number of notification systems to alert the public to meetings of public bodies.  This is in accordance both with the state Open Meetings Act and the council’s own Citizen Participation Ordinance.   It is possible to sign up for a number of automatic notifications by email.  I’m on a number of them, including RFP #743 (the Library Lot).  But in this case, the system failed.

The Ann Arbor Chronicle has been making something of a crusade over this issue, to the extent of a lawsuit against the city.  In a recent column, Dave Askin’s study of the problem of  “noticing” revealed that the City Clerk’s office is supposed to place the legally required notices in a glass-front case in City Hall – and this triggers the electronic notices.  Edward Vielmetti, the “Lead Blogger” for AnnArbor.com, has also been an advocate for open government and recently wrote a good summary of the systems the city has in place for noticing.  He noted that if items are placed (instead of in the glass case) on a “tack strip” nearby,  electronic notices are not triggered.

I have learned informally that the City Clerk (who has the electronic system in hand) is not the only person with a key to the glass case.  The City Administrator’s assistant also has one.  Apparently the notice for the RFP Advisory Committee meeting was placed into the glass case without telling anyone else.  Thus, transparency that was opaque to the rest of the (city) universe – unless you happened to be strolling through City Hall at an opportune moment.

Happy endings

The good news is, thanks to the intervention of CM Rapundalo, the message apparently got across and the minutes were finally posted on the city RFP page.  I’m hopeful that we will now see proper noticing of the anticipated February RFP advisory committee meeting.  According to CM Rapundalo, that will be the one where the committee reviews the draft letter of intent and discusses recommendations to the Council.  I’ll be there.

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