They do like doing things the hard way in Hamburg. The town’s officeholders may think that secrecy around municipal projects costing tens of millions of dollars makes the job easier, but it doesn’t. It arouses suspicions, creates animosities, risks lawsuits and damages reputations.
But that’s what is happening in the town, as Supervisor Steven J. Walters plans a sportsplex costing up to $30 million. Although a private developer would buy the property, construct the building and manage it, the town is a partner. It has skin in the game. It could be on the hook if the project lost money and also stands to share in any profits.
Thus, the interests of town taxpayers are at play and those residents deserve to be let in on the secret. Councilman Thomas Best Jr. seems to agree. He voted against picking a developer for the project last week because of the lack of transparency in the planning. The board received the proposed agreement just three days before the meeting, he said. “We never discussed the agreement as a board. I think we put a divide where there didn’t have to be.”
Exactly right. Such projects require an open process. That’s true whether it is the town planning the project or a private developer. When public officials make plans, they are doing so on behalf of constituents, who have a right to know what is being done in their name.
The fact is, this could be a terrific project for Hamburg. Or a lousy one. It’s impossible to know, because town officials have shrouded the planning in secrecy.
It’s also insulting to the voters who entrusted Walters and members of the Town Board with the authority to conduct their affairs. That’s a lot of power, but it comes with strings attached, one of which is to conduct the public’s business in public. Let residents know what’s going on. Solicit their opinions. Be professional.
When that happens, projects go much more smoothly. When it doesn’t, trouble is almost sure to follow.
Walters and the Town Board need to take a step back and rethink how they are proceeding. They need to tell their constituents the secrets they are keeping.