The Politics of Captain Renault: Sabra Briere Is “Shocked” About Secret Backroom Dealing (With A Poll)
This dialogue is from the movie “Casablanca,” 1942
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
[a croupier hands Renault a pile of money]
Croupier: Your winnings, sir.
Captain Renault: [sotto voce] Oh, thank you very much.
Captain Renault: Everybody out at once!
First Ward Council member Sabra Briere recently sent around an email titled “clarifying information” to a group of her constituents and others whom (one imagines) she considers important disseminators of such emails. On the surface, it looks as though Briere is providing the public with insider details concerning the Library Lot RFP process, and the Mayor’s potential collusion with the Valiant Group. One could argue that based on Briere’s email that Mayor Hieftje, Roger Fraser and Jesse Bernstein planned to help the Valiant Group get their project built, and Mayor Hieftje stayed silent as a sham RFP process was initiated to mask the back-room deal struck by the men and the developers.
One does wonder why Briere stayed silent concerning plans she knew were in the works for a conference center when she cast her vote in favor of floating $45 million dollars in bonds to build the Library Lot underground parking garage.
Is Briere’s email breaking news? Nope. Not even close.
On April 19, 2008, Ann Arbor News reporter Judy McGovern published a piece in which she writes:
“The notion that Ann Arbor needs a large conference center comes up every now and then – and most recently, it happened on New Year’s Eve at Cafe Verde. Early that day, Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce President Jesse Bernstein and Washtenaw County Administrator Bob Guenzel were chatting over coffee. Guenzel said he’d like to see plans for an Ann Arbor conference center take shape. Bernstein agreed. And that got the ball – at a public standstill since 1989 – rolling again.”
The email is remarkable in the fact that Briere is hanging out to dry any number of local politicos, beginning with Mayor Hieftje, former Chamber of Commerce leader, Jesse Bernstein, City Administrator Roger Fraser, and Briere’s First Ward Council colleague, Sandi Smith.
Here’s is Briere’s January 18, 2010 email in its entirety:
I know the RFP for the Library Lot isn’t the most important issue for everyone. In the past day, I’ve met twice with citizens to discuss the budget and learn from them more about the quality of information I should be receiving and the best ways to get the answers to my questions.
In government, transparency is important. Today’s coverage in the [Ann Arbor] Chronicle about last night’s Caucus and the Library Lot RFP once again makes that clear — but it’s hard to know when to tell something that isn’t your secret. Some of the things I’ve learned along the way as a member of Council haven’t been mine to share, but I’m happy to discuss everything I know about the proposals for the Library Lot.
Here’s some clarifying data for you, in case timelines help:
At our City Council retreat on January 10, 2009, Roger Fraser showed us some ‘preliminary’ drawings for a conference center. We were not provided copies of these drawings. Later requests for copies or any further information was denied — their very existence was denied — by the FOIA officer at the City.
On Sunday, June 14, 2009, at the end of Caucus, Mayor Hieftje asked me to come to his office so he could show me something. At that time, he loaned me a copy of a proposal titled “Ann Arbor Town Center” from Valiant Partners LLD, dated May, 2009. On its cover was a green and white sticky note stating “Thanks, John. This is pretty interesting. Sandi”.
I returned the original document to him the next day.
This is the same proposal that was later publicized as the “secret plan” for the conference center by Vivienne Armentrout on her blog, Local in Ann Arbor, in August, 2009.
The RFP for the Library Lot was issued in August .
I heard nothing more about the cenference center until December 3rd, 2009. At the Holiday Breakfast of the Main Street Merchants’ Association, Jesse Bernstein, the former president of the Ann Arbor Area Chamber of Commerce, expressed his displeasure at the Library Lot RFP process and Council’s inability to ‘make up its mind’. He said there he, the Mayor and Roger Fraser had worked hard to get the deal for the conference center proposal, and now we were sending mixed signals to the developers. He said that everyone agreed that this was what downtown needed. I said I didn’t. We agreed to meet for breakfast.
On December 11, 2009, at 7:30 am, we met at the Northside Grill. Among other discussed items, Bernstein said he, Fraser and Hieftje had met with people from Valiant. The Valiant people had asked what they could do for the City. The ‘vision’ that had emerged from this meeting was that the City wanted a conference center. I do not know the date of that meeting, except that it had to have been prior to December, 2008. I also do not know if there was more than one meeting.
At our meeting, Bernstein said he felt betrayed. He said that Valiant’s proposal for a conference center was a consensus project, and that it was not fair that Valiant should have to jump through all of these hoops.
On Saturday, January 9, 2010, I spoke with Council member Stephen Rapundalo, who is the chair of the RFP advisory committee. I reported on all of the above.
I also said that, as part of the mandatory RFP process, Valiant had signed a proposal statement which said, in part: “The undersigned acknowledges that it has not received or relied upon any representations or warrants of any nature whatsoever from the City of Ann Arbor, its agents or employees, and that this Proposal is based solely upon the undersigned’s own independent business judgement.”
I said to Rapundalo that I questioned the validity of this acknowledgment since Fraser had participated in the design of the plan.
On Thursday, January 14, 2010, I met with Chuck Skelton, president of Hospitality Advisors Consulting Group, a firm that performs site analysis, feasibility and valuation of hotels all over the country. Peter Allen was also at our meeting. He had set up the meeting at my request.
Skelton said that he had met with Valiant principals in January, 2009 to discuss a hotel/conference center larger than the one currently before the RFP committee.
Skelton said that in a small market like Ann Arbor building a hotel/conference center would be impact on existing businesses. Typically, if the prospects were economically sound the City would not have to provide financing assistance.
Near the end of the meeting, Peter Allen asked, “ You mean there is no way a hotel can be successful? How about a boutique hotel?” Chuck responded by saying, “It is doubtful at this time given these market conditions.”
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