Detroit development agency aims to be more open

Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News

Detroit — The Detroit Downtown Development Authority, a public body with the ability to shepherd tax money for private development, says it’s taking steps to become more publicly transparent.

The board of the DDA anonymously approved Wednesday to no longer hold its committee meetings in private, but instead will follow guidelines of the State’s Open Meetings Act. In addition, meeting agendas will be posted online on the website of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp.

The DDA is a major economic 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.

The regular bi-monthly meetings of the DDA board of directors are already open to the public, but the agency currently doesn’t post meeting agendas online. Nor do the board’s various committees meet in public, which state law currently doesn’t require, the DDA said.

The DDA board said it was taking these transparency steps now because the state legislature could possibly change current state laws to require the DDA to take the steps it just approved.

In addition, the DDA is facing a Wayne County Circuit Court lawsuit contending that a private meeting held by the board’s finance committee shouldn’t have been allowed. That meeting was allegedly about the tentative deal to bring the Detroit Pistons downtown to play in the future Little Caesars Arena, which opens this year. Part of the agreement includes a request for up to $34.5 million in taxpayer-backed bonds to pay for arena upgrades for the Pistons. The deal must still be approved by the Detroit City Council and the National Basketball Association.

The judge involved in that lawsuit, Judge John Gillis, originally ordered the DDA’s finance committee to bring notes and audio recordings of that private meeting to court this week. But Judge Gillis rescinded that order earlier this week.