Unanswered Questions Cloud Government Center Sale
Posted by Buzz Beeler on 18th January 2017

December 27, 2013 1:45 pm ET

Comment on developer’s website at center of controversy while Smith’s law firm reps Vanguard.

Source: Unanswered Questions Cloud Government Center Sale

I have a favorite line in the film script from All the Presidents Men:


–listen, we didn’t make them do
these things–once they did, it’s
our job to report it—

So, please understand that I am just doing my vocation, here.

Here we go again with another controversy regarding the sale of the Government Center to the Vanguard Retail Property Development. I don’t make this stuff up—it comes to me via concerned and alert (and, I should mention, informed) citizens who keep an eye on things, so to speak.

This was a hum dinger of an email in which the writer stated the following quote was attributed to…

(Let me add some suspense here. Cue the ominous music.)

OK, I don’t want you to get bored to tears, so back to the subject of … what shall we call this? Cronyism? A potential conflict of interest? Or, as the late, great Charlie Rich crooned, “Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors.”

Now back to the song and dance. This was the purported statement made on Vanguard’s website:

“Vanguard can create imaginative projects and they really know how to work well with the local community.”

Now, according to the sender (who I know to be very reliable and truthful), that statement was made by none other than Andrea Van Arsdale from the county’s office of planning, who just so happened to be on the committee deciding who was to get the winning bid on the Government Center.

But wait, it gets better…

When my source went back to check again, that particular page was taken down. In fact, the last time anyone saw the Vanguard page apparently was in April. I went online and could not find it, but I did find something that could be a link—or, as they say, “connect the dots”—to the following names:

“Towson-based Smith, Gildea & Schmidt represented Greenberg Gibbons and Vanguard throughout the zoning and administrative hearing process.”

Now, as you may recall, a lot of people were curious about that link in the chain—including myself and writers at the Sun, who also filled a PIA seeking information on the proposed RFP. However, mum was the word from the county—nobody was talking, and we were all left to wonder if the potential conflict of interest was keeping folks silent.

Listen to this quote in the Sun’s article:

“Don Mohler, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s chief of staff, said the county wants to keep the documents under wraps so that the procurement process is “devoid of any kind of external pressure.”

“We’re very protective of the integrity of that process,” he said.”

The whole deal was a sort of sticky wicket, if you will, with all hands on board … or all hands involved.

We had our councilman, John Olszewski Sr., and developer John Vontran involved. And, by the way, based on the amount he bid, Mr. Vontran should have been awarded the contract. The county, on the other hand, went to great lengths to keep this whole mess a secret.

The question remains: why would they hide information from the community?

Here are my thoughts:

1)       The county knew in advance who would get the deal and, based on their own figures, the east side sale to Vanguard would lose money based on the amounts of the bid: Vontran’s $5 million vs Vanguard’s $2.1 million.

2)      There is a secret in the PUD’s that will kick the community in the butt.

3)      The perks are in the pudding for the developer—i.e., tax breaks.

4)      Van Arsdale’s comment would be a dead giveaway.

5)      The Jim Smith connection still haunts us today.

6)      A political hot potato popped up involving Councilman Olszewski Sr. and the ethics issues.

7)      Jim Smith had more sway with Kamenetz than Olszewski.

8)      Who needs more bad publicity?

9)      And last, but not least, the menu was prepared and the deal already had been cooked.

Those are just a few of the things I was thinking.

Now in all fairness I sent Ms. Van Arsdale an email, which read as follows:

1)      Did you make the comment attributed to you on Vanguard’s website?

2)      If so, when did you make it?

3)      If you can’t remember the exact date, can you tell me if it was made before the committee rendered its decision on the government land sales, including the sale of the Government Center?

4)      Are you aware of the law firm that represents Vanguard, which is also listed on their site?

5)      Do you know why the Vanguard site link was taken down, and are you aware that links can be saved into folders?

6)      As Director of the Office of Planning, do you perform duties at the discretion of the County Executive?

To make my intentions clear, my goal is to determine if any pressure was placed upon you or anyone else regarding this matter.  And, to clarify your role in this process, if that was the case the person providing information to me becomes a protected source rather than the subject of the article.

I will await your response. Please let me know if you have further questions or concerns.

I also sent Vanguard a couple of questions that I am awaiting answers to, but I won’t hold my breath. Though I do find it interesting they have a “news” site on their webpage—maybe my answers will pop up there.

Not likely…

Now I hear that Vanguard is encountering some problem in attracting new tenants to the proposed site. Also, I understand that there is a major bruhaha between some of the key players in this game.

This mess is getting messier, folks. Be sure to stay tuned for more developments.

I think we’re in the calm before the storm…

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