Our Opinion: Open session on vital issue commended

News Tribune editorial

We commend Jefferson City Council members for conducting Tuesday’s conference center discussion in open session.

The council on Tuesday held a public hearing, followed by a meeting with a scheduled closed session for all or part of the conference center discussion. State law allows the closure under a provision designed to protect the confidentiality of the developers’ financial information.

Council members decided, however, to hear from and question their consultant in open session. As we have said from the beginning of this process, transparency is preferable, whenever possible. No proprietary information was disclosed Tuesday, reinforcing the appropriateness of the open session.

Council members may decide Monday whether to choose one of two developers who have submitted proposals or to reject both. If both are rejected, council members also may decide if and when to reopen the process.

The two proposals under consideration include: one by Farmer Holding Co. of Jefferson City to be attached to the Capital Mall, which it owns; and another by Hannibal-based Ehrhardt Hospitality Group to be constructed on West McCarty Street near the downtown area.

The council’s consultant — Charles Johnson of Chicago-based Johnson Consulting — told council members he favors the Farmer proposal based on feasibility.

“From an attractiveness standpoint, both are equally good,” he said. “From a deal-structure standpoint, the mall site is clearer (and) simpler.”

As our readers are aware, efforts to locate a conference center in Jefferson City have been a topic of discussion for decades. Many residents have strong opinions about location and other considerations, as evidenced by comments at public hearings.

As council members approach a decision on this issue, openness and transparency are paramount. We applaud them for sharing information in full view of the public.

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