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City-run meeting on Philadelphia finances will be closed to public

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  1. Freedom of Information
Philadelphia plans to bar reporters from attending a city-run conference this week where public officials will discuss the city’s finances…

Philadelphia plans to bar reporters from attending a city-run conference this week where public officials will discuss the city’s finances and budget in an effort to attract potential investors.

The two-day Philadelphia Investor Conference, which begins Thursday, is considered a private meeting under Pennsylvania’s Open Meetings Act, said Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Michael Nutter, the city’s mayor.

“It’s a show-and-tell to try to show these folks that Philadelphia is a great, stable, growing city and a good place to invest,” McDonald said in an interview.

In Pennsylvania, agency meetings are generally open to the public. However, conferences between agencies and private entities are exempt from the rule, so long as deliberation of agency business does not occur.

According to an agenda, senior officials and prominent business leaders will share their insight into the city’s economy and business climate with credit providers. There will also be private tours of different city facilities. McDonald said it is important for the meeting to be private so that potential investors can speak freely.

“Folks will be able to ask their questions in an unencumbered way,” McDonald said. “There’s simply a reality – media scrutiny in a meeting is a little different when it’s public versus private.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press signed on to a letter written by Bloomberg News protesting the mayor’s decision to close the conference to the public. The Associated Press and The Philadelphia Inquirer also signed the letter.

“Your decision to have this discussion hidden from public view perpetuates distrust and cynicism among not only voters and the taxpaying public, but distrust of the city by investors in infrastructure, bonds and other aspects of public finance,” the letter stated. “We urge you to respect the need for transparency and the spirit of Pennsylvania’s tradition of open government, and allow the media to attend the conference.”

McDonald said Nutter hears the concerns of the organizations that sent him the letter, but there is no legal basis to open up the meeting. Many of the city’s presentations will be put online after the convention, and some officials will be available to speak to the press after the meetings.

“We’re having budget hearings right now and we’ve talked about many of the same issues in public,” McDonald said.