At this morning's meeting of the Grand Rapids City Commission, Mayor George Heartwell -- as promised yesterday -- responded to Commissioner Rick Tormala's criticism of his secret role in the now-bust "Mystery Development". Waiting until the end of the session Heartwell made a statement.
Specifically at issue for Tormala was the fact that about a year ago Heartwell and two other city officials signed confidentiality agreements which obligated them to private interests to keep their plans for purchasing city-owned and other property at the southwest corner of downtown Grand Rapids secret from the City Commission and the public. Apparently the public didn't include local bigwig Peter Secchia who advised Heartwell on how to handle this affair, including resisting attempts by the media to obtain public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act. Therefore, Heartwell used his public office to give certain people special access to information about the "Mystery Development" that was denied to the public. Moreover, Tormala was concerned that the confidentiality agreements are now missing, and so there is no public record of exactly how Heartwell and the other city officials secretly committed themselves to private interests seeking to buy city-owned property. To prevent this problem in the future, Tormala wanted the City Commission to pass a measure requiring review and record-keeping of such agreements by the City Attorney to safeguard the public interest.
Heartwell responded this morning by defending the confidentiality agreements. He claimed it was necessary for him and the other officials to sign them as a matter of public interest. He asserted that if the agreements hadn't been signed, the "Mystery Development" may not have come to pass (well, it didn't anyway) or may have significantly increased the project's costs (because the out-of-towners might have had to pay the locals more for their property?). Heartwell didn't explain why these problems for the project's backers were necessarily problems for the public. Nor did he explain why no one should be concerned that the confidentiality agreements are now missing. He did add that if the City Commission wanted to bring forth information about the city's role in the "Mystery Development", it could do so, but as far as he was concerned the matter was closed. Heartwell then attempted to adjourned the City Commission meeting.
At that point Tormala spoke up and told Heartwell that he hadn't given him an opportunity to rebut his defense of the confidentiality agreements. Heartwell refused to let Tormala speak, stating that the meeting was adjourned. Tormala retorted, "That's a cowardly thing to do." Bowing his head and gathering his papers, Heartwell walked out of the meeting. Tormala promised to raised this matter again.