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The state Department of Administration’s refusal to name the members of its selection committee for the state’s $196 million Hill Farms project, reported in Tuesday’s State Journal, continues an obnoxious pattern of official secrecy regarding this public project.

First, the DOA declared that the names of developers who took part in an Oct. 17 tour of the property could not be named “for competitive or bargaining reasons,” even though the developers obviously made themselves known to each other by attending.

After that ill-conceived act of obfuscation came under fire, the DOA did name the four finalists for the project. The sky remained intact.

Then, last month, the DOA announced it had selected a developer for the job, said to be the largest public sector office project in state history. But the agency said it could not reveal who it was, until negotiations were completed. Now the state has named the development team it selected, even though a final contract has not yet been executed. In doing so, the state tacitly confirmed there was no good reason not to name the selected bidder earlier.

But still the state insists it cannot reveal the project selection committee members until negotiation of the deal is complete. According to DOA lawyer Gregory Murray, “Evaluators may be discouraged from serving if they believe that their names will be released while the procurement process is ongoing.”

Really? The state would actually allow people this cowardly to serve on the selection committee for a $200 million project? People who would refuse to serve unless they knew their identities would be shielded until the contracts are signed?

This secrecy runs counter to Wisconsin’s traditions of open government and breeds justifiable distrust among the public. The DOA needs to stop acting as though it has something to hide. Unless, of course, it does.

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Lueders is the president of the Freedom of Information Council in Madison

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