The three buildings at the corner of East Walnut and Adams streets in downtown Green Bay have been vacant since 2001, when Schauer & Schumacher Furniture moved to Ashwaubenon.
Green Bay's Redevelopment Authority on Tuesday approved a development agreement but withheld any details of the deal. When asked for those details, the city attorney said the agreement wasn't final.
That type of secrecy is unacceptable. Once the RDA approves an agreement, the details of it should be made public. The reluctance to reveal those details was evident when the RDA members returned from closed session and voted on a motion that included no information.
Unfortunately, this type of secrecy seems to be standard procedure lately for the RDA, which is making a habit of withholding information from the very public whose money it spends.
On March 19, the RDA went into closed session three times - twice to discuss an unspecified East Walnut Street project and once to discuss KI Convention Center expansion. The RDA transferred $300,000 for the Walnut Street project.
The fund transfer triggered a 30-day public comment period. But the public had no idea what to comment on.
Community development director Rob Strong at the time said releasing information could hurt negotiations and that perhaps by the next RDA meeting, in April, that information could be released. It hasn't been.
Plus, none of those excuses is acceptable.
On Tuesday, the RDA went into closed session three times. It came back into open session and approved something that was talked about in closed session. It took votes while in closed session the other two times.
The public has no idea what was agreed to in closed session. It can only try to piece together what happened.
Based on the agenda, they talked about the former Schauer & Schumacher building at East Walnut and North Adams streets, though it's only referred to by parcel numbers; the Coaches Corner property at North Adams and Main streets; and redevelopment of North Webster Avenue.
If you're ambitious, more information is available from the less-secretive Historic Preservation Commission, which met Monday and approved an initial plan for the former Schauer & Schumacher building. That proposal includes developing housing and about 3,000 square feet of retail space while maintaining the historical character of it.
You can go to the commission's website, see the agenda and listen to audio of the meeting.
There. Is that so difficult?
Apparently it is for the RDA.
The big question for the RDA is why should we be left in the dark? Why should we have to piece together what is happening downtown?
Was the $300,000 fund transfer in March for a Walnut Street project really for the Schauer & Schumacher building? Or was it for another development?
We don't know, and that is wrong when the RDA is spending public money.
Plus, it appears the RDA is violating the state Open Meetings Law.
The name of a potential developer as well as the property under consideration should be made public. The RDA's negotiating strategy can be secret, but who they're bargaining with and what they're bargaining about should not.
The court has ruled that "a desire or request for confidentiality by a private developer engaged in negotiations with a city was not sufficient to justify a closed session for competitive or bargaining reasons," according to state Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's "Wisconsin Open Meetings Law: A Compliance Guide."
Further: "A private entity's desire for confidentiality does not permit a closed meeting. A governing body's belief that secret meetings will produce cost savings does not justify closing the door to public scrutiny."
Keeping the name of the developer and the project secret benefits the developer, not the municipality or its residents.
Someone might have a better deal or a better use for that space. But to keep the public in the dark as an agreement is developed and then to present the public with what is in essence a done deal does not meet the standards of open meetings.
The RDA needs to divulge the details of the actions it has taken. If RDA members think they're doing the public's bidding, they need to make this information public immediately.