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NO PUBLIC DESIRED: REDI chair wanted public left out of blight debate, emails reveal

Griggs preferred confidentiality to transparency for new EEZ/Blight Board

 
COLUMBIA, 4/29/12 (Beat Byte) -- REDI chairman Dave Griggs wanted members of a new board overseeing Columbia's Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) to sign confidentiality agreements that would shield them from the Sunshine Law and other public information requests, emails released under that law have revealed.

The revelation casts doubt on an April 16 REDI report to the Columbia City Council in which the City Hall lobby argued the importance of public engagement.
 
"Have the board members sign our standard confidentiality agreements and discuss our real projects that could benefit (currently) from this program and the potential job impact of project 'air,'" Griggs emailed fellow REDI leaders Mike Brooks and Bernie Andrews two days after Columbia City Council members blighted over 60% of the city and established the EEZ board.
 
Brooks immediately halted the plan, noting its illegality. "This advisory board will have to operate under the State Open Door policy, so we will not have the option of sharing any confidential information," he emailed Griggs and Andrews.
 
After congratulating Brooks and Andrews on the Feb. 6 Council victory, Griggs laid out a plan to control information to and from board members that included meeting with a committee -- an EEZ Board precursor composed of REDI members -- and constant lobbying. Speed was of the essence, he emphasized, and the public was not invited.
 
"How about this idea as a way to get the board up to speed," Griggs emailed Brooks and Andrews. "WE [emphasis his] assemble one of Bernie’s notebooks with all the information from statutes forward. Assemble the original committee and have a joint meeting of the committee and the board. Present the background information along with the poster sized maps (in all iterations) along with the background on why areas were specifically included. Review how this program can be a great benefit to our expansion and attraction efforts."
 
"My thought is if we can really show why we are behind this and what it could mean in our efforts that will provide the 'extra' reasoning to fully understand and support the initiative," Griggs wrote. "Just food for thought but a possible way to get a fast start on moving this forward!"
 
Brooks agreed with every suggestion except the confidentiality requirement, and immediately went into lobbyist mode. His plan to influence the EEZ board members casts more doubt on REDI's role as a City Hall department providing non-biased, professional opinions.

"We can still impress the importance of the program," Brooks emailed. "We can work with [EEZ Board chairman] John Strotbeck from Kraft Foods to impress the importance of this program from a manufacturing perspective. We will have the census block group maps pulled out so that we can highlight the areas that we feel need to be included. Then couple those with the required areas to get a map that is contiguous."

The maps Brooks references are areas blighted by the City Council for inclusion into the EEZ zone.
 
 
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