Market House Deal Beginning To Smell Fishy

| December 4, 2010 | 58 Comments

At one point in time, City Hall and Lehr Jackson, developer of the newest rendition of the Market House, envisioned an Annapolis Market House similar to Seattle’s Pikes Market complete with fish mongers tossing fish from one side to the other.

Well, it seems that the fish may have arrived a bit early.

Late last week, we heard that the administration was planning on revealing the details of the new Market House at Monday’s City Council meeting. At that time, we did not realize that the City Council had not been advised by the Mayor who has held all details relating to the Market House close to his vest. We became slightly suspicious when an email was sent advising that the Mayor and all City Directors would not be available on Friday.

And today, The Capital reveals exactly how deep in the shadows our elected City Council has been kept as the Mayor seemingly cuts his own deal with Lehr Jackson. For instance:

  1. The lease has apparently been prepared and is ready for the Council to approve it sight unseen.
  2. The City Council is expected to approve zoning changes to appease Lehr Jackson without knowing exactly what they are.
  3. Ward 6 Alderman Kenny Kirby seems to be in the know. Could this be related to the recent approval of a 2am liquor license for Castlebay? Has Cohen struck another deal with an Alderman to assure passage of a bill? Remember, the repeal of the 2am license resolution was supposed to be “the first thing” Josh Cohen was to do as Mayor–or so he campaigned.
  4. Jackson is apparently not returning phone calls.
  5. City Hall has so far refused to provide documents requested by The Capital in defiance of State law.
  6. The Chairman of the Economics Committee, Fred Paone (R-Ward 2) has purposely been kept in the dark.
  7. The City has hired a $500/hour law firm who has yet to advise the City Council of their recommendations. Perhaps they have advised the Mayor.
  8. Many on the Council were unaware of the $1,000 per month that the City is paying Lehr Jackson as a “fee” to come up with the details of this project. Mind you, that Lehr Jackson can walk away from this at any given point. The City is also an anomaly–how many businesses start up by asking their prospective landlord for money to develop their business plan? And get it? One might think that the expertise of Karen Hardwick, City Attorney, might have been tapped here. But then again, her experience, according to her resume, tends to be mostly on the developer side of things.
  9. The Mayor has admitted that the market House will operate at a loss. No figure was tagged to that loss.

The last administration seemed to go down this same path and we all know how that turned out. This whole deal is beginning to really smell.

The Mayor campaigned on an open and transparent administration but has provided the exact opposite in his first year in office. There have been more closed meetings than any other administration. There have been reports about impromptu council meetings taking place in (conveniently enough) Castlebay. When the mayor was trying to get his budget passed, a deal was struck with Alderman Silverman to assure his vote–the Alderman would get the support of the Mayor to abandon his constituents for 5 months if he voted for the Mayor’s budget.

Even Alderman Kirby was working behind the scenes as was evidenced by some recent public postings on his Facebook page:

All of this does not speak well for the transparency this Administration promised. The Citizens of Annapolis elected their representatives to represent them–not the special interests of developers and donors. But then again, maybe the citizens should have been a little more cautious at the polls. After all this is the way it has always been done. The Council and administration have been playing this game for a long time (Cohen, Israel, Paone, Arnett, Hoyle, Finlayson) and it certainly did not take Kirby and Silverman long to learn the game. The jury is still out on Pfeiffer.

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