Thursday, December 29, 2005

Council Agenda

In our continuing look at the development and small business issues we feel that the City Council should tackle in the coming year we'd be remiss if we didn't highlight the need for the city's legislature to examine how EDC, the city's quasi-public development agency operates. The two key areas of focus are on policy expertise and favoritism, with the understanding that these are often overlapping.

In the past we have watched as EDC has been a facilitator of the interests of favored developers in the city. In this scenario, the developer proposes and EDC disposes. It would be interesting to a longitudinal study of the circulation of EDC staff into the private sector. Our bet would be that there has been a healthy cross-pollination that, over time, reinforces the agency's role as an enabler of the city's real estate power elite.

Than there is the issue of favoritism, an issue graphically highlighted by the Doctoroff/Steve Ross love affair. It would be in the public interest for the Council, after it has cashiered the tainted BTM deal, to drag in all of the co-conspirators with subpoenas for a full hearing on the fiasco.

Now we know that the Alliance has been obssessive on this and, as a result, perhaps can be seen as a might less than objective on this whole matter. That is why we were fascinated to find a scathing commentary by Henry Stern on the BTM. Stern, who we have frequently disagreed with, gives just the right good government perspective on the tarnished BTM situation.

Stern, who has the benefit of historical perspective, goes back to the scandalous deal that was originally struck on the Terminal Market and wonders if the city has gotten the best deal possible on the Market. His key point, although he is loathe to accuse folks of chicannery, is that it is likely, as it was clearly demonstrated on the West Side, that the city (and the tax payers of course) is always better off in a competitive bidding situation.

This is especially true since the principals involved are personally close. The Stern money quote: "The assertion that Doctoroff recused himself entirely from the transaction is also difficult for thinking people to swallow whole, considering the multiple contacts and protracted negotiations between the parties. If Doctoroff had nothing to do with it, who, then, was responsible for working out the agreement? Let Mr. X come forward and explain the deal to the public."

Which is precisely what a renewed Council, concerned with its oversight role, should do immediately after it gets re-organized. The path is clear: Reject the land use application, return the market property to the city and commence a proper bidding process. This would be not only the appropriate opening salvo in the battle for accountable development, it would also be the first step in the development of a truly first rate legislative body that can effectively rein in mayoral excess.