Is releasing the names of the people on a secret committee on a Sunday night, that to this point remained under wraps, transparency?
On the evening of May 12th, the Mobile mayor’s office released the names of the members on the committee that is advising and ultimately will choose the winning proposal and developer for the redevelopment of the Civic center property. While everyone that is on the committee looks qualified, due to the nature of their positions of employment and their experience to make the decision, the release of the names raises more questions about the selection process. These questions I have are not intended to derail the project or highlight any opposition to the project, but questions that need to be asked and answered to ensure that the best possible decision is made for everybody involved.
The first question that arises in my mind looking over the list of committee members is where the representatives of the stakeholders are? While the curator of the Mobile Carnival Museum is on the selection committee, I did not see one member of the committee that represents one Mardi Gras organization that holds their festivities at the Civic center. Furthermore, I did not see any representative of the Mobile Ballet, the Mobile Opera, or Distinguished Young Women or SMG, all organizations that use the Civic Center property to hold their events, and all organizations that have a direct interest in how the property is redeveloped.
The second question that arises in my mind is, where are the representatives of the surrounding neighborhoods? Reviewing the list of members of the committee, I did not see one member of the Downtown Business Alliance, the Church Street neighborhood organization, or the Mobile Housing Board who has a development that borders the Civic center property to the West. Any redevelopment of the Civic Center will most certainly raise neighboring property values. On the surface that seems like a good thing, however, gentrification and the rising property values in other cities that result from it have become a concern for the longtime residents of those neighborhoods who worry about their children and their grandchildren being able to afford property in the community they grew up.
The third question that arises in my mind is, where are the commercial real estate brokers and agents on the committee? This is not the first mixed-use Public-Private partnership development that has happened in this city or this region. The knowledge and experience of others that have through this process before could be very valuable to this committee to avoid the mistakes of the past.
And the final question that arises in my mind is where are the representatives of the city council? The city of Mobile has two co-equal branches of government, both of which have very distinct and very defined responsibilities. That does not mean however that the two different branches of government cannot communicate with each other, and participate in the same process, That type of cooperation can only lead to greater transparency, and the best possible project for the city and the taxpayers. Also if you have representatives of the city council on the selection committee, they can act as a conduit of information for council members that have any questions about the process, without jeopardizing or making public any confidential or proprietary information that needs to remain confidential during the selection process.
The more questions we ask now about this process, the better the transparency we have. The better transparency we have now, ultimately the better the project that is selected will be. I will keep asking the questions, but who will answer them?