A state board said Monday that the Baltimore Development Corp. improperly barred the public and the news media from meetings about a proposal that the city borrow $535 million to pay for roads, parks, sewers and other projects on land in South Baltimore owned by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank.
The Open Meetings Compliance Board said the BDC's stated reason for closing the meetings — that it was discussing the marketing of bonds — did not apply and that the discussions that occurred in closed session did not fall within allowable exceptions.
As part of its proposed mixed-use redvelopment of land south of Interstate 95 near the cruise terminal, Plank's private real estate company, Sagamore Development, is seeking $535 million in tax increment financing for infrastructure. The TIF bonds would be repaid by taxes generated by the project.
"To be clear: the fact that the TIF proposal might eventually lead to an entity's marketing of bonds does not mean that the BDC committee may shield from public view its discussions about the developer's proposed use of the site and the items to be included in the TIF," the board wrote in its opinion. "We find the connection between the topics described in BDC's minutes and the 'marketing of securities' to be too attenuated for the exception to apply."
A BDC spokeswoman declined to comment, saying she was not aware of the opinion by the board, which is housed in the office of the attorney general.
The BDC, the city's economic development arm, held three closed meetings in March to discuss the proposal before backing the request and recommending that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake send it to the Board of Finance for further review. To proceed further, it must receive City Council approval.
The Evening Sun
The Baltimore Sun, along with the Baltimore Business Journal and the Baltimore Brew, filed a complaint with the attorney general after the BDC meetings were closed to the public.
The BDC said it was closing the meeting to discuss "financial analysis," "bonds to be discussed/analysis," "financials" and "numbers analysis."
Those are not adequate expanation for a closure, the state board wrote in its opinion. BDC also failed to reopen meetings when discussion strayed to topics not eligible for closed review, it said.
It was not clear Monday what the opinion, which is advisory, means for further disclosures.
Trif Alatzas, The Sun's publisher and editor-in-chief, said he was pleased with the finding.
"The right to know how these decisions are being made is important … and part of our core mission," he said.