Sunday, December 17, 2017 1:00 am
North River negotiations: the Rifkin perspective
Danny, Rickand Marty Rifkin
Now that the city's purchase of the North River property is complete, the environmental report has been released and additional experts have confirmed the manageability of any remediation. The remaining concerns, at least of the local media, seem to relate to the approval process, especially the secrecy surrounding that process. Since our own confidentiality obligations have expired, we wanted to share our views.
Mutual confidentiality obligations are part of nearly every business deal. Here, with a municipal government involved, we understood there were competing concerns. However, after 10 years of on-and-off negotiations, we expected this deal to dissipate like all the others.
We had to be mindful of how any disclosures might affect the site's marketability, especially if a transaction critic sensationalized environmental concerns that experts advised were clearly manageable.
During negotiations, the city pressed to make its environmental report public. We insisted on a two-part process that allowed the city first to present key environmental information, including estimated cleanup costs, in a public meeting. Then the full report could be shared privately with City Council, but only if members signed on to the confidentiality agreement and we authorized the disclosure.
Before the deal was even made public, each council member was to be briefed on the terms.
No details presented in those private meetings were to be released until the city and the Rifkin family made public announcements. When the deal terms were leaked, most likely by a member of Council, we had to assume that the confidentiality of the full environmental report would also be breached if provided to council.
The city's environmental presentation at the council meeting was well received, but then Councilman Michael Barranda's theatrics began, focused primarily on indemnification. Hypotheticals with no relevance to the facts were posited one after another, several of which insinuated criminal acts by our family. In light of what transpired, we were convinced the city needed to withhold its report from council.
Later, Barranda revealed his true motivations by offering his vote in exchange for an assignment of insurance rights that we didn't have, adding that there would be a public thrashing of the transaction, and our family personally, if we declined his proposal. Nothing illegal, but definitely politics at its worst.
His scathing comments were delivered as promised, and Councilman Glynn Hines joined in. The name-calling and offensive personal attacks, now business as usual in Washington, D.C., were unexpected and uncalled for from our own community, especially out of council itself.
The only other significant complaint raised about the process was our firm drop-dead date of Dec. 1, a deal term agreed upon last March.
We saw no reason to change that deadline based on the city's procrastination. Besides, how much more time did council really need to vote on a deal that turned out to be virtually identical to the one floated more than 10 years earlier?
This was supposed to be a straightforward business deal. It was negotiated in good faith, with extensive give and take on both sides. We believe that it would have been better received by the public had it not been for the political grandstanding and the inaccurate and unfair slant put forth in local news coverage and editorials. In any case, the city now has what it always wanted; absolute control over the site. After this experience, our hope is that other businesses that may have to deal with the city and this council are treated with more respect than we were.
Danny, Rick and Marty Rifkin wrote this for The Journal Gazette.