How many people does it take to determine who plans the development of city-owned property? If you guessed five, that is a good guess because City Council has nine elected members and five is the minimum majority vote of those nine officials. But you’d be wrong. The answer is actually two; the head of the Community and Economic Development department and the City Manager – both unelected positions.
If this seems like a problem, consider this, the City employs something called a preferred developer agreement. These contracts give the exclusive right to plan and institute the development of any piece of city-owned property to a private organization. While in place the city stops maintaining the property while the private organization creates a development plan. There is no public notice given prior to the signing of one of these contracts. There is no request for proposals issued. There is no bidding to see what organization would best benefit the city or the neighborhood. There is no required neighborhood conversation or decision. Throughout the year in which such an agreement is in place the city cannot offer development opportunities on the land to any other entity without first dissolving the agreement.
If the company in contract with the city fails to put together a viable plan by the end of that year, the same two un-elected people can simply re-sign the agreement for another year – regardless of why the company could not put together a viable plan – again with no required input from the public or City Council. City Council only gets a say if the private company puts together a plan that is endorsed by the head of Community and Economic Development and the City Manager. City Council is then asked to vote to transfer the property from the city into the ownership of the private company. Again prior to this potential vote on selling the city-owned property, there has been no required public discussion, there has been no required bidding, there has been no required discussion regarding racial or economic inclusion in the development itself or the construction of the development.
I assume for most people reading this, this all seems quite problematic to say the least. Well it gets worse. In a handful of cases these agreements have been voted on by Council, in a publically unknown number of instances, they have not been. This leads to the question of why would Council vote in a few instances, but not in others. The answer is: there is no public answer. Researching the topic in the city’s charter, municipal code, rules of council and the online archive of city documents does not reveal any information of when or if the power to create these agreements was ever discussed or enacted. Such a search reveals no laws or policies pertaining to these agreements nor any actual indication of a particular process that must be followed. In fact, every bit of the “process” explained above is based simply on the few agreements that have been at least somewhat forced into the public eye.
So what do you think should be done considering the fact that currently in our city two unelected officials can grant the exclusive rights to plan the development of city-owned property without any public notice or discussion, without any vote of City Council and without any named requirements for inclusion or return on investment for the city; and there is no readily available evidence that there was ever a policy created to allow for this or guide the process?