Judge: Details of downtown Pistons deal must be public

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Details on how the city forged a tentative deal that will bring the Detroit Pistons downtown need to be made public, a Wayne County Circuit Court judge has ruled.

Judge John Gillis Jr. has ordered the finance committee of the city’s Downtown Development Authority to bring notes and audio recordings of its private meeting held in November to a Wayne County Circuit Court on Jan. 26. The ruling stems from a lawsuit claiming the DDA violated the state’s Open Meetings Act; it seeks to abolish the preliminary agreement between the city and the Pistons about moving downtown.

The lawsuit was filed by Robert Davis, who has filed numerous lawsuits against Gov. Rick Snyder and government agencies over public transparency issues.

The DDA says it is standard policy not to comment on pending litigation.

The DDA is a major force in shaping downtown. It supports private investments and business growth in the central business district with loans, sponsorships, grants and capital improvements. Property owners within the DDA district pay a 1-mill property tax to fund the basic operation of the agency.

On Friday, Judge Gillis ordered the five members of the DDA finance committee to show up in court next week. In addition to bringing documentation from the November meeting, the city agency must explain why the judge shouldn’t issue a preliminary injunction that would prevent the committee from holding more private meetings.

The committee’s members include city government officials (Melvin “Butch” Hollowell, Detroit corporation counsel; and John Naglick, deputy CFO for the city of Detroit) and three private citizens (David Blaszkiewicz, of the Detroit Investment Fund; Sonya Delley; and Stephen Ogden, of Rock Ventures).

During a Nov. 22 meeting, the finance committee met for four hours, allegedly discussing the deal expected to bring the Pistons downtown to play in Little Caesars Arena, according to the lawsuit. Little Caesars Arena is the still-under-construction multimillion-dollar venue that also will be the home ice of the Detroit Red Wings. The arena is owned by the DDA.

Part of the tentative agreement includes a request for up to $34.5 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for arena upgrades for the Pistons. The deal is preliminary. It must still be approved by the Detroit City Council and the National Basketball Association.

After the finance committee met privately in November, the DDA’s full board of directors met on the same day and approved the tentative agreement during a brief public meeting. Immediately after that public meeting, a celebratory press conference had already been scheduled to announce the tentative agreement designed to bring the NBA team back to the city from suburban Oakland County.