Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Good Golly, Miss Mollie

Today we read that Mollie Cardamone also is/was/will be on the Pineapple Square payroll. The newspaper article says:

Cardamone, who served on the City Commission from 1993 to 2001, now runs a consulting business. She said this week that she simply gave Simon political advice as he embarked on what some have called an unprecedented neighborhood lobby.

"Am I working for him? No," she said. "Am I going to charge him for a couple of hours? Yeah."

Cardamone is one of several prominent people who spoke in favor of the project but didn't reveal their connections to Simon -- including Drayton Saunders, whose real estate firm plans to sell units in Pineapple Square, and Ernie Ritz, a contractor also working on the project.

Mayor Mary Anne Servian doesn't think public disclosure was necessary for Cardamone or the others. Servian already knew about their affiliations to the project.

A previous article had indicated that Ernie Ritz and Drayton Saunders had not revealed that they too had a financial interest in connection to Pineapple Square.

The issue here is one of accountability. While one or more commissioners may have known that these people had a financial connection to the project, the general public did not know, nor, it turned out, did all the commissioners. Instead, these persons represented themselves as interested citizens (which they are), but failed to also indicate their financial interests.
Mayor Servian is quoted in the article as saying: "I wouldn't call Mollie a lobbyist by any stretch of the imagination."

According to the dictionary, a lobbyist is one who "tries to influence the thinking of legislators or other public officials for or against a specific cause: lobbying for stronger environmental safeguards." A paid lobbyist is one who tries to influence legislators and gets paid by a third party.

Being accountable is "an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account (a statement of reasons, causes, or motives) for one’s actions."

Commissioner Shelin hosted several public workshops last year focusing on the topic of accountability of public officials. Many citizens participated and gave their views on improving accountability.

Mollie Cardamone did, after the fact, acknowledge her financial relationship with Pineapple Square and apologized for not disclosing her "prior involvement" after the fact.

It is our understanding she is also consultant for another major area project, the proposed Wal-Mart on 301. We have no quarrel with this relationship, but would urge that when testifying on behalf of that company, she will clarify she is doing so as a consultant, not only as a former mayor and commissioner.

Citizens and commissioners deserve to know when persons testifying before the commission have financial interests in a project. No matter how upright or honest the lobbyist or consultant, or the commissioners, when this is not done, it casts doubt upon the testimony and the process.

Our government processes depend upon openness and honesty.

When questions about accountability are brushed aside, the citizens become cynical. It is time for some very serious discussion of a variety of accountability issues. Let that discussion begin.


Anonymous said...

Once Ms. Cadamone accepted money for consulting on this project, her credibility is immediately and forever suspect, no matter how sincere her intentions.

Why is this so hard for people to understand?

Anonymous said...

Yes to the above. No matter how sincere and honorable, credibility is in question when money has been accepted.

I had a hard time with Ms. Cardamone's comparison of giving city land for the public library with giving public land for a private development.

If she had been testifying as a former commissioner, looking out for the public's interest, I would have expected her to say, "This is an interesting project, but you need to look more closely at the financials and questions raised by your consultants and planning staff before moving ahead."

Anonymous said...

Cardamone should be very ashamed of herself. This political game that was played with our tax money is disgusting.

And the commission continues to see no conflicts or problems with pushing this deal without all the details are worked out.

I think Lou Ann is the only one scratching her head on this one. We should support her in bringing up more of the facts that do not add up. Like why was a RFP not pursued for this project?

dale parks said...

As one of the CRA Advisory Board members, I continue to be baffled as to why we have been excluded from this process. This type of project was the very reason the group of professionals were assembled. Lou Ann Palmer twice now has urged that the CRAAB be utilized along with the staff reports and independent consultants reports. No other commissioner has backed her recommendations.

I remain very concerned that process is being ignored to the detriment of the public's interests. As I submitted a letter to the commissioners to this effect, as well as urging them to require the developer to build a scale model of the proposed project prior to the city committing land and money- it largely went ignored, as some commissioners took the developer's word that such a model would be too expensive to build.

I particularly find irony in such a statement- especially considering the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent by the developer in seed money throughout the community- but balks at actually showing the community what it is buying into.

The citizens of this city should be concerned.

Anonymous said...

The library?? Now there’s a sore point. Remember when it was to be built on the Mission Harbor property where the Renaissance and Alinari now stand? The developer of the Renaissance began by promising affordable apartments and mixed use and we ended up with two Med Rev condo towers, a motel squeezed onto the southeast corner of the property, and giveaway of the air rights (99 years) over the Van Wezel and its parking lot. When will we learn?

Gretchen Serrie said...

Re comment in SRQ newsletter:

"I feel badly for the individuals who are being besmirched. We have not made a secret of who our consultants are. Apparently going to community groups and sharing and altering your plan is now called 'lobbying'." -John Simon, CEO of Pineapple Square project

Sharing your plan with community groups was much appreciated. The criticism of Mrs. Cardamone was that in her presentation to the commission, she spoke as a former commissioner and did not disclose her financial connection to the Pineapple Square project. It was the most forceful and persuasive of any of the presentations, but not all of the commissioners, most of those in the audience, and even some of the media did not realize she was working as a consultant for the project.

I, certainly was unaware that two others who spoke also had financial interests in the Pineapple Square project. I thought they were speaking as private citizens.

No one is being besmirched for working as a consultant or for outreach to the community. However, I do believe that most citizens would agree that those who had a financial connection with your project should have disclosed that before their presentations at the commission table.