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A brief tutorial on “secret” deals and good government

A columnist for Raleigh’s News & Observer attempts to take some government watchdog groups to task today [1] for not attacking Governor Perdue and the other members of the North Carolina Council of State for their recent approval of the decision to lease the site of the former Dorothea Dix Hospital to the City of Raleigh. According to Rick Martinez:

“The Dix deal has all the elements good-government types decry – last-minute agreements crafted with no public input, million-dollar contributions from the monied elite and elected officials mocking the spirit of transparency by voting behind closed doors. All that’s missing is the smoke-filled back room….there would be howls of protest had Gov-Elect Pat McCrory used the same process to seal a deal with the Republican-led Wake County Board of Commissioners to develop Dix into a property that returns real money to the state. Then imagine a $3 million pledge from Art Pope (who helps fund a think tank for which my wife freelances) to defray development costs.”

Good lord – where to begin with this poor, confused fellow? Let’s try the following:

#1 – The Dix deal has been negotiated, discussed and debated for years. The notion that Governor Perdue and the other members of the Council of State should somehow be barred from wrapping up the work that she and they were elected to do and had been working on while they still had several weeks to serve in office is ridiculous.

#2 – State law [2] gives explicit authority to the Council of State to make precisely these kinds of decisions with respect to public lands. Moreover, they make such decisions all the time.

#3 –  The decision was, as my colleague Chris Fitzsimon pointed out [3], a “bold and visionary” one. Rather than somehow “betraying taxpayers” as Martinez and his buddies at the right-wing shock troop organization Americans for Prosperity claim, the decision protects taxpayers by maintaining the lands as state property rather than selling it off to developers.

#4 – Martinez’ contention that good government groups would be howling if a Governor McCrory had worked out some kind of deal with conservative Wake County commissioners to sell off the land to private interests in the waning days of his term makes no sense and is an apples-to-unknown fruit comparison.  There’s no way to know without more information. Is Martinez hypothesizing a situation in which the imagined decision would have been debated publicly for years? Developed by who? What would Art Pope’s imagined contribution be going toward?

#5 – If Martinez really cared about open government, he’d be railing about his buddies over in the General Assembly (who just last week, in keeping with their well-established practice, advanced a secretly-negotiated/lobbyist-authored broadside [4] against our state’s unemployment insurance system and the hundreds of thousands of families it keeps out of poverty) rather than a long-debated plan to simply retain public lands for the public good.