As we have reported on several occasions in recent months, a community-based task force is working with the city to shape the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Seward Park development site (SPURA). In our most recent story last week, we called that panel a “secret task force,” a characterization that didn’t go over too well with a few members of Community Board 3.
They point out that the group is not “secret” because we know of its existence. Fair enough. But here’s what we do not want to lose sight of in our ongoing coverage a a sweeping development project that will change the Lower East Side forever: the task force is completely lacking in transparency.
We have done our best to cover the Seward Park story objectively, and will continue to do so. But The Lo-Down will make no apologies for expressing our point of view when it comes to freedom of information. For this reason, we will continue to highlight the troubling manner in which the task force is being required to operate.
Under normal circumstances, communities have very little to say about development projects on public property once the land use process is completed. CB3 pushed for the creation of this task force, as a way of continuing to influence what ultimately gets built on the nine development parcels next to the Williamsburg Bridge. The community board should be lauded for winning an important concession that will, hopefully, give the people of the Lower East Side a voice throughout the RFP process. And the NYC Economic Development Corp. deserves praise for agreeing to create this advisory body, a step they rarely (if ever) have taken in the past.
It also stands to reason that sensitive details about proposals from developers cannot be made public. In explaining why members of the task force were being required to sign confidentiality agreements, city officials have cited rules governing competitive contracts that are specifically meant to prevent corruption. But in the last couple of meetings, it has become clear that members of the panel are not just barred from disclosing information about proposals, which won’t even start coming in until next year. They are being stopped from commenting about anything whatsoever regarding Seward Park. The task force is under a complete gag order.
Rules regarding confidential bidding should not become an excuse for cloaking the Seward Park process, which up until now has been fairly transparent, in secrecy. There is no reason EDC officials cannot, on a regular basis, release information regarding the task force’s general topics of conversation, its conclusions about priorities spelled out in the RFP and other details about their deliberations.
It’s pretty clear that at least some members of the task force are uncomfortable with the gag order. This is understandable. There’s a huge burden on them to reflect the many diverse interests of the Lower East Side. It’s a job that will be tough enough as it is without the imposition of unnecessary and inappropriate rules concealing every aspect of their work from public view.