Certainly the city should do everything it can to take advantage of this generous offer. But at the same time, there should be a full-court press to bring the donor's name into the open, due to the serious questions raised by turning over a substantial portion of the city's business to an anonymous person whose motives are completely unknown.
In his description of the offer disclosed in a staff report last week, senior engineer Larry Johmann said the donor would have an "active role" in managing construction, including choosing the construction contractor. "The donor has a successful history of philanthropic endeavors in the region," Mr. Johmann said.
Despite City Attorney Bill McClure's belief that the city could work with such a donor without revealing his or her identity, experts on the state's Public Records Act say there is simply no exemption in the act that would enable the city to protect the donor's identity if there is a contract between the city and the donor. All such city contracts are public record.
In addition, if the donor pulled out of the contract for any reason, the city could find itself on the hook to build a gym, even if it did not have the resources to do so.
Even if, as some have speculated, the city sets up two entities, — one between the donor and the contractor and the other between the contractor and the city — there are plenty of pitfalls that could prove concerning later in the process. For example:
CharStyle:bullet>n The donor has made very clear which of three gym plans he or she will support, and how much money the city will need to contribute. In the design that appears to fit the donor's criteria, the city would pay just $6.2 million of the gym's $14.2 million total cost. The donor promises to pay the rest, some $8 million or more, depending on cost overruns. But unless some contractual tricks are used, we cannot see how the city can enter a relationship with a contractor without making the donor's name public.
• All members of the City Council know the donor's identity, and if that name was communicated in any way, it is public record. Also, could the council keep such a secret for a year or more?
• The donor could have a secret motive — such as seeking city approval for a large construction project of his or her own — that would be revealed only after the gym project was completed. By contributing such a large sum to build a city project, the donor could be likely to receive favored treatment from a grateful City Council.
There has to be some middle ground here. We believe the city should challenge the potential donor to go public now with this magnificent gift. By making the offer contingent on the donor remaining anonymous until the project is completed has to raise questions about the person's motives. What will change after the new gym is completed?