City Hall is reportedly blocking the release of financial information connected to the Port Covington development deal in South Baltimore, with its unprecedented $535 million tax increment finance proposal.
Wow. So much for, “(building) public trust in local government through greater transparency,” the narrative Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was pushing when she introduced ethics legislation in March of 2015 (one month before the uprising jumped off).
“It’s not unusual what they’re doing, but I think it’s wrong,” said Baltimore City Councilman and mayoral candidate Carl Stokes. Stokes is chairman of the council’s Taxation, Finance and Economic Development committee. He was often the lone dissenting voice throughout the process that ultimately provided $107 million in tax increment financing bonds for the Harbor Point development a few years back in 2013. When compared to the $535 million sought for Port Covington, $107 million seems like a paltry sum.
“I think it’s wrong not to show greater transparency all throughout the process, so that we know exactly what the numbers are. So, that we’re starting to have this conversation at the public level as well as the council level,” Stokes said.
“Because this is all taxpayer money that we’re talking about. It’s not as if the city has some private account…it’s all public dollars and taxpayer dollars and it should be put on the table,” he added.
Stokes, like the other major candidates for mayor, supports the Port Covington deal for Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development real estate firm, with caveats. One of them is full financial disclosure to city taxpayers who will ultimately fund a significant chunk of the massive $5.5 billion project.
“We are acting in some manner as a financial institution, as a bank or as an investor in this developer’s project. We’re acting as an investor and as an investor we ought to have full access to all of the numbers,” Stokes said.
“If you walk into a financial institution…and say, `I want you to invest in my project.’ The bank is going to ask for full disclosure of everything. So, I don’t understand the matter of proprietary information. When you’re asking the public to invest in your project, the public should be aware of everything, all the books have to be open,” Stokes added. “If you don’t want to open your books don’t ask for public subsidy. If you’re asking for public subsidy, you have to fully disclose and be transparent.”
One year ago this week Freddie Gray was arrested, according to a police report because, “Gray looked at us (police) funny.” He was dead a week later on April 19. After his funeral at New Shiloh Baptist Church on April 27, the uprising erupted near Mondawmin Mall.
Again, the martyred Gray was not the reason for the uprising, but his death sparked a fire fueled by generations of neglect, disregard and disrespect, the foundational stones of structural racism.
Be clear; those young people (and some not so young) who threw rocks at the police, jumped up and down on cars, vandalized businesses and set the CVS at Penn and North on fire, were acting on behalf of thousands of city residents who have jobs, pay taxes and vote. Thousands of mostly Black people who are also frustrated with how the city treats them, like so much refuse, that is until it’s election time and then politicians come to their neighborhoods to hand out lawn signs and bumper stickers and feed them copious amounts of BS. Thousands who vicariously went on a rampage last April.
Over the last year the consensus has been if we as a city do not learn the lessons laid out so explicitly during the uprising (before and after Gray’s funeral), we were doomed to repeat the tragic events of April 27, only with more ferocity, destruction and possibly death.
The obtuse reasoning behind City Hall’s non-disclosure of the financial details connected to the biggest development deal in Baltimore’s history makes it seem like the outgoing mayor doesn’t quite get it.
Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA 88.9.