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Institute For Justice Files Suit In Rolling Mill Debate

March 22nd, 2017 by WCBC Radio

The Institute For Justice has filed suit alleging the City of Cumberland and developers violated sunshine laws.

The IJ's press release follows:

Today, the Institute for Justice filed a lawsuit in Maryland state court against the city of Cumberland and the city-created Cumberland Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) for violating the Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA). Cumberland and the CEDC are refusing to turn over public records regarding a controversial development project, including a letter of intent the CEDC announced it had signed with a developer.

The MPIA is similar to the federal Freedom of Information Act: It allows the public to access records from state and local government agencies. But the city and the CEDC are refusing to provide documents about the development plans for land owned by the city in the Rolling Mills neighborhood, as well as private homes in that neighborhood that may be targeted with eminent domain.

“This is part of a longstanding effort by the city and the CEDC to shield their backroom redevelopment deals from public scrutiny,” said Christina Walsh, IJ’s Director of Activism and Coalitions. “But the public has a right to know about the deals that public bodies are making for the redevelopment of publicly owned property and the potential use of eminent domain against homeowners.”

On December 31, 2016, the CEDC announced in a press release that it had signed a letter of intent with a new developer for a redevelopment project in the Rolling Mills neighborhood. The city and the CEDC have already acquired many of the homes in the neighborhood and have contemplated using eminent domain against the remaining homeowners, who do not wish to leave their homes. A prior letter of intent with a previous developer stated that the city intended to acquire properties in the Rolling Mill area “through the City’s power of eminent domain and/or otherwise within two (2) years.”

In January, IJ requested the new letter of intent mentioned in the CEDC’s press release, but both the city and the CEDC refused to provide it. This is part of a continuing effort to avoid complying with transparency laws. The CEDC also failed to provide documents in response to a MPIA request made by IJ last July regarding this same redevelopment project. In November, Maryland’s Open Meetings Compliance Board found that the CEDC was violating open meetings laws after IJ filed an open meetings complaint. The Board rejected the CEDC’s claim that it was a “private” entity that was not required to follow open meeting laws, and found that the CEDC is a “public body” because it “function[s] as an extension and subagency of the City government and was created by the City, for that purpose.”

This lawsuit challenges the refusal of the city and the CEDC to provide public records in response to IJ’s public information requests about the redevelopment project. It was filed in the Circuit Court for Allegany County, Maryland. Justin A. Torres and Marisa C. Maleck from King & Spalding represent IJ in the lawsuit.

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