Baltimore County is preparing to sell three taxpayer-owned properties to private developers, but members of the public won't know all the details of what they're planning until officials make a decision.
County leaders said last week they would not release proposals for the North Point Government Center in Dundalk, the Towson fire station, and a police substation in Randallstown after The Baltimore Sun filed a Public Information Act request.
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 county received eight bids for the three properties in April. While some developers have revealed details of their proposals, others are tight-lipped.
The pending sales have generated great interest among some residents, especially in Dundalk, where many community leaders oppose selling the government center.
Mohler said the county would release information about the bids after an evaluation committee recommends which development proposals the county should select. He said the County Council will have final say on the land sales.
"The public will have a chance to weigh in before the council," Mohler said. "The committee just makes the recommendation."
In rejecting The Sun's request, County Attorney Mike Field cited exemptions in state law that he said allow the county to withhold "inter- and intra-agency memoranda."
"Disclosing bids before the county has made its decisions would not be in the public interest as it would inhibit candor in the decision-making process," he wrote. "Clearly, disclosure at this time would inhibit creative debate and discussion within or among agencies or impair the integrity of the county's decision-making process."
He also wrote that the law allows the county to withhold the documents because they contain "confidential commercial information."
Potential bidders had asked about protecting confidential financial information if anyone made a PIA request for documents.
In response to those questions, county officials wrote in information posted on the county website that bidders should specify which information they wanted to keep confidential. "If a PIA request is made," the site said, "the bidder will be notified of the request and the marked pages/information will be reviewed consistent with state law."