City officials are not embracing open government in the process of selling the Blue Building.
The deadline was Wednesday for proposals to be submitted to the city outlining development plans for the Blue Building. Plans could include everything from building demolition to full restoration.
Four proposals were received.
Those proposals, and who made them, are not being revealed by city officials.
“I, like you, am excited to share information with the public on such a high-profile project,” said city administrator Nolan Ming. “However, we are limited in what we can share as of right now.”
Ming cited information from MTAS, the Municipal Technical Advisory Service, as reasons the city is not legally required to reveal who has submitted proposals. However, the information sent to the Southern Standard involved rules surrounding how the city can purchase property, not sell it.
Government operates under different rules than private citizens when it comes to selling property. This is to prevent public property from being sold to a friend or relative of a city official at a greatly reduced price.
To avoid any appearance of wrongdoing, government property is typically sold at auction or by sealed bid to the highest bidder. The legality of being able to evaluate proposals secretly has been questioned by the Standard and the newspaper has contacted the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office for a legal opinion.
Ming previously told the Standard the proposals would be made public after the deadline passed. The Standard is dedicated to fighting for open government where decisions concerning taxpayer dollars are not made behind closed doors.
“When we talked a few weeks ago, I indeed said I wanted the proposals to be placed on the city’s website immediately after the deadline for all to see,” said Ming. “It wasn’t long after that, while I was making sure that we could actually do so, that I learned of the clause below.”
The MTAS interpretation being used by the city to deny access to the proposals states, “Municipalities may make purchases using competitive sealed proposals rather than competitive sealed bids when the governing body determines that competitive sealed bidding is either not practicable or not advantageous to the municipality.”
The MTAS interpretation does not mention the sale of property.