The following letter has been sent to Mayor Fryday, Councilmember Lucas and Councilmember Athas, regarding the public process and RFP for the vacant parcels at Hamilton.
You voted for a process that is NOT transparent with regards to the Request For Proposals that are submitted to the City for the vacant parcels at Hamilton.
As it stands you have voted to have the proposals first reviewed in a CLOSED SESSION of the Council and only the proposals that you deem are "financially viable" will be brought forward to the public. By doing this in Closed Session, the public will not have access to what should be public information on nature and number of proposals submitted.
Additionally, the public will not know how the criteria for selection is being applied to these proposals in order to deem them viable. More importantly, the VOTE take by our Council representatives on these proposals will be kept secret by rules of the CLOSED SESSION.
If Council members have communication with developers who submit proposals, when will that information be available to the public, particularly if the proposals are reviewed in closed session and do not make it through to the public process?
This goes against the commitment to transparency that has been made by you as members of the Novato City Council. ALL of the proposal submitted should be open to the public at least in summary, without any sensitive financial information that would be pertinent to private negotiation.
For public record, I’m attaching the content of the March 10, 2018 Marin IJ Editorial which states that this is a step away from transparency. Please reconsider this process on the RFPs to provide transparency to the citizens of Novato on ALL the proposals submitted to the City of Novato for the vacant properties.
Marin IJ Editorial, March 10, 2018
HAMILTON PROPERTIES DESERVE A WIDE-OPEN PUBLIC PROCESS
Novato Councilwoman Pat Eklund isn’t known for being shy about expressing her opinion. On the city’s handling of the future of three city-owned parcels at Hamilton Field, we’re glad she spoke up.
Although winding up on the losing end of a 3-2 council vote, Eklund argued that the proposals the city receives for these sites be open to public review.
“I believe all proposals, not just the viable ones, should go to the public,” she said.
She’s right, but a majority of her colleagues opted for a process in which the council, meeting in private, would cull the proposals to two or three and then present those for public review.
Although City Hall’s been touting efforts to be more open and transparent, the idea of the council meeting behind closed doors to pre-screen proposals is neither. It just invites public suspicion about the process.
Councilman Eric Lucan said that the council handling that task is better than letting staff winnow the proposals, which was the original staff recommendation. “As elected council members we are elected to make those tough decisions and face the heat for those decisions, so I think the council should be the one determining whether or not it’s financially viable.”
The council-shaped process adopted on a 3-2 vote, with Mayor Josh Fryday and Councilwoman Denise Athas joining Lucan, is marginal improvement when it comes to an open and transparent process. Having a wide-open public process may be messier, but it avoids suspicion that council members are steering a predetermined process.
Given that this process involves public property and potentially large sources of city revenue from the sale or lease of the sites, Eklund was right when she said, “Let’s turn this process around and let’s make it work for everybody.”
Obviously, the council will have to meet in private when it gets into negotiating the nitty-gritty details, such as the ultimate price and payments for the properties. But the council’s decision to start the process with closed-door decisions gets the public process backward.
To its credit, the city has already held three public meetings on the issue of determining the future of the old commissary site and Christmas Tree Hill, the theater and community center property and the Bachelor Quarters and Officers Club sites.
Now is not the time to duck into a private session. City staff should take a hard look at the proposals and the developers’ track record and financial performance. Those factors are an important part of the decision-making process and staff should advise council members on those factors before finalists are chosen.
But the public deserves a chance to see and review all of the proposals, not just the ones the council has already blessed.
City Hall has promised to be more open and transparent, but this is a big step away from that pledge.