Sunday, January 25, 2009

Medical Mart: Behind the closed doors

Excellent story about this week's Medical Mart decision in the Plain Dealer today -- a must-read.

The front-page story asks why the commissioners decided, within hours of hearing the developer's recommendation, to pick the downtown mall as the location for the convention center and Medical Mart.

The story's highlights:

-Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones and county negotiator Fred Nance wanted to negotiate price before announcing a decision. Tim Hagan and Jimmy Dimora decided to make the decision right away -- another big disagreement between them and Jones.

-Hagan and Nance are very sensitive to the critics who assume local politics is beholden to Sam Miller and Forest City (which owns the other possible site).

-Hagan's biggest motivation was a sense of urgency -- an urgency the Plain Dealer and a lot of other people in town complained has been missing during the year and a half of studying and deliberating about the project. This story will likely infuriate Hagan, Dimora and Nance. They feel whipsawed -- criticized for moving too slow, then for moving too fast.

-But that's not the real issue here. Here's the real issue, high up in the story:
"The county has decided to spend nearly a half-billion public dollars without holding a meeting in public to discuss the basis for its decision. ... Why would a county government in the middle of a sweeping federal corruption investigation choose not to conduct its business in the most open way possible?"

-That's why Dimora's take isn't satisifying. Here's his quote: "We figured, 'Why continue to prolong the decision'" when MMPI had already done the analysis[?] "The public and the media should trust the due diligence" and cost analysis, he said.

-The commissioners do decide too many things in private executive sessions. But with this story, the Plain Dealer has done a great job of getting them to explain what went on behind those closed doors.

-The Plain Dealer and other citizens who want this decision explained clearly will probably not get what they want. Hagan and Dimora are usually not inclined to do this. When Jones held public forums on the Medical Mart site selection this summer, they didn't attend. If they act like they acted with the Ameritrust Tower issue, they're more likely to rant at the Plain Dealer at Thursday's commissioners meeting. (Wish I could be there to blog about it, but alas, I'm leaving for vacation that day.)

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