Many of you have probably heard by now of the mysterious deal being put together for a thirty-acre parcel on the southern edge of downtown Grand Rapids. The site is bounded by the Grand River on the west, Grandville Avenue on the east, the US-131 s-curve on the north, and Wealthy Street on the south. A lot of wild rumors have been floated about a project that an out-of-town interest wants to develop there. For what it's worth, the project I have heard described most often is a pair of residential towers to be built by a local developer.
The parcel in question includes some property owned by the City of Grand Rapids. To find out about the proposed project, Mayor George Heartwell signed a confidentiality agreement to keep it secret from the public. I can understand why this unknown developer wants to keep a lid on everything until he is ready to act. It's only sensible. But I don't see why any public official should oblige him when a public interest is involved. Of course, the developer doesn't want details leaking out so that others can start buying up options on the property he wants. But his interest is not necessarily the public's interest.
But we cannot evaluate whether or not there is a conflict because our mayor has agreed to keep the developer's secrets from the public. Heartwell had no compelling reason to do this. Whatever the developer needs from the city government must be handled openly in full view of the public. So, there is nothing that Heartwell can legitimately do for or against the proposed project in his capacity as mayor. Nothing. If that's the case, what does he need to know about this project before the developer decides to make it public? Nothing.