On July 26, Office of Open Records Appeals Officer Kathleen A. Higgins, Esq. determined that the City of Lancaster should turn over information pertaining to Lancaster’s controversial City Revitalization and Improvement Zone.
Penn Square Partners has asked for a $9 million CRIZ contribution (not repayable) towards the expansion of the Lancaster Marriott Hotel. The money is to be funded by bonds paid from future tax revenues or, failing to do so, the City of Lancaster.
By filing our Right-To-Know request, Newslanc simply asks for information about this important and expensive government program.
“The objective of the Right to Know Law … is to empower citizens by affording them access to information concerning the activities of their government,” Higgins wrote in her July decision.
We couldn’t agree more.
But apparently the City of Lancaster and Penn Square Partners do not believe the public should be informed.
In response to the state Open Records ruling, on August 22, the law firm of Zimmerman, Pfannebecker, Nuffort and Albert, LLP appealed on behalf of the City of Lancaster.
The hiring of outside counsel suggests a will to press its appeals not only at the state administrative level but, as needed, through the Court of Common Pleas, the Commonwealth Court, and possibly all the way to the state Supreme Court.
All of this could tie up the requested information for years, not to mention the huge cost in outside legal fees to the city.
One wonders why the City of Lancaster is seeking to prevent the public from getting this information? Here are some possibilities, among others:
1) The information may prove very embarrassing, suggesting cronyism inappropriate in the dealings of the City through its CRIZ Authority and its Redevelopment Authority of the City of Lancaster (RACL) with Penn Square Partners. Penn Square Partners after all has requested the CRIZ funding towards the development of a hundred room expansion of the Lancaster Marriott Hotel — which it leases from RACL and has an option to buy at a very low price.
2) A closer look may question how a lessee can be a recipient of a CRIZ grant and, if not, whether it is appropriate for one city authority, CRIZ, to provide a $9 million award of state tax money to another city authority, RACL.
3) Mayor Rick Gray, an experienced criminal defense attorney, may be concerned that the files may disclose fraudulent conduct and is seeking to ‘run out the clock’ for investigation and indictments.
The suppositions could go on and on.
Only with the release of information can the public truly understand what is going on with its government, its agencies, and its money, and why.