Sweet deals sour in light of brazen DDA indecisions

July 13, 2009
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The Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority board has mired itself in controversy the past few years and is cavalier in regard to that fact. The city commission is overdue in its public sector duty to provide oversight and guidance.

Amidst allegations of meetings held privately out of the public view and following a controversial allocation of “surplus” funds to pay for city services within its boundaries, the DDA last week approved a one-year consulting agreement for planning and communications services. Six of the nine board members attended the meeting and approved the arrangement without a contract or written agreement, without bids or public notification of the desire for such services, and without indication of the total cost for said services.

Such action is highly irregular and highly suspect. And the city commission is ultimately liable. The city commission is overdue in its public sector duty to provide oversight and guidance.

The Business Journal respects the long history of the agency from which the DDA is purchasing services, but notes the city is privileged to be home to several such agencies. The fact that the agency owner is directly related to one of the DDA’s former long-serving board members is more reason to provide additional scrutiny, not less. Public boards, accountable for tax money collected, are accountable to the public they serve. Even the appearance of impropriety is a necessary check, though the DDA’s actions are blatantly offensive as a public board.

This is not intended to call into question the agency, but the manner in which the DDA board acts and the city’s liability for it. Again — the city commission is overdue in its public sector duty to provide oversight and guidance.

This particular selection will certainly be viewed as a “good ole boy” network of favor, especially given the absence of a contract, let alone bid process. It is unfortunate for the agency assigned. While the city commission talks of minority hiring and equal opportunity, this action flies in the face of such stated goals. At least one minority-owned communications business with a long history and tenure among downtown development leaders also is based in the city.

The DDA board must by city definition specifically represent downtown property owners and stakeholders. Some blame for the outrageous action may be linked to the “CEO mentality” — a condition by which corporate leaders make “executive decisions” without regard to the very specific set of laws governing the public sector.

The Business Journal notes that city representatives will meet this week with the Kent County Board of Commissioners to resolve the county’s concern in regard to the DDA’s authority to allocate surplus funds for city services within its boundaries. It is anticipated that representatives from both governing bodies will follow state law regarding use of such DDA funds.

It is anticipated that the city commission will attend to its public duty and avoidance of costly liabilities.

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