Crestwood Aldermen Discuss When and Where to Talk With Developers
Tim Trueblood proposed a discussion on private communications between aldermen and potential developers after multiple board members were conacted by Crestwood Court's redevelopers.
Some communications from a Centrum Properties representative sparked a discussion last week among Crestwood aldermen how they should address requests from developers to speak outside city hall walls.
The company has been before the board over the last several months in hopes they can introduce a revitalized development at Crestwood Court by the 2014 holiday season. While aldermen approved them as the mall’s developer last month, they have yet to give their recommendation to a specific proposal.
Ward II Alderman Tim Trueblood said he received a phone call from a Centrum representative before the board’s previous meeting, but ultimately decided he wasn’t comfortable that the communication was off the record.
“I don’t think I should be having a conversation with a potential vendor, developer, when city money’s involved,” Trueblood said.
During their last meeting Trueblood said he noticed the city received a bill indicating there had been conversations via phone and email with another alderman—which prompted him to request a discussion on the topic during Tuesday’s board meeting. Several other aldermen offered their views on interacting with potential developers
While Trueblood said he didn’t feel it was necessary for the board to draft any formal policy, he encouraged fellow aldermen to make sure that an attorney or city clerk was available to put communications on the record.
“It’s not a violation of sunshine law, it’s a violation of the trust, the transparency we wish to have as elected officials representing our citizens.”
“We have no idea what information is exchanged in those conversations or meetings that should have been, could have been shared with the public as well as the rest of the board,” he explained.
Ward I Alderman Mimi Duncan said she had participated in conversations, but didn’t realize it was an issue to another alderman.
“To do my due diligence I feel I have to talk to certain stakeholders,” Duncan said. She explained she prefers direct communication rather than receiving information “filtered through the mayor.”
Conversations with previous developers had not influenced her votes, she said. But she does consider them a part of her information-gathering process.
“I don’t think we should throw up another roadblock to development in this city that is crying for sales tax revenue,” she said, adding that the city didn’t have a city administrator or economic development staff in place to speak with potential businesses.
Ward III Alderman Daniel Tennesson, who was credited for keeping the board’s conversations with Centrum going this fall, said he did not respond to two calls from the developers.
“I feel we have a responsibility to engage business and not to be difficult, but perhaps that’s at our individual risk,” he said.
Trueblood was not the only board member concerned by Centrum’s calls. Ward IV Alderman Paul Duchild said he sent a memo out last month after hearing the developer was contacting board members directly. “My issue’s not just with this specific developer, it would be with all vendors,” he explained.
He questioned whether they should specify to developers how they wish to be contacted.
“I think to some degree we have to act as a unit, as a board, and I think the best way to do that is transparently through Board of Aldermen meeting or work sessions,” Duchild said.
Ward II Alderman Bob Deutschmann suggested aldermen invite representatives of pending projects to speak in front of the whole board.
Ward IV Alderman John Foote said he’s had success gathering valuable information while keeping his end of conversation very ‘general.’
“I have the responsibility to treat the information and the conversations I have as confidential, and have the knowledge not to sell out the people that I represent. But I also have the right to represent my constituency, and to ask questions,” he said. “Somewhere along the line we’re supposed to have a certain percentage of trust, and I think at times you should use your good judgment.”
Duncan stood by her actions.
“If my constituents don’t like what I’m doing, they have the option to not vote for me,” she said.