Updated: April 18, 2014
“Discovery” is the legal term for “the compulsory disclosure of pertinent facts or documents to the opposing party in a civil action, usually before a trial begins.” We are borrowing that term for what is now, at long last, taking place surrounding the World Trade Center redevelopment. Certainly, the Freedom of Information Law makes answers to the public’s many requests for information compulsory — but in the Port Authority’s case, hard to enforce. Now, the New Jersey Assembly’s move seeking subpoena power over the agency is one more concrete step toward real disclosure.
We have been urging for some time that Port Authority officials be required to answer questions under oath — including past officials. As our discovery phase progresses, we will start a conversation on what restitution the people should sue for in the Court of Public Opinion and whom to hold accountable for the WTC swindle. We predict that once the full scope of what has transpired comes to light, the Attorneys General will find they have a part to play. And of course, investigative journalists are central to the inquiry.
The more common use of the word “discovery” relates to detecting something new that has been there all along, unobserved and unappreciated. We think that sums up so much of the media’s coverage of the inner workings of the WTC debacle — but interest in getting to the bottom of what has transpired is obviously building.
The unimpressive WTC with which we find ourselves saddled almost a dozen years after 9/11 was not inevitable. It is the result of corruption on the part of some officials — not all — and turning a blind eye on the part of some in the media — at the editorial level. Journalists do not write what editors and publishers won’t print. It is time for both the political and media spheres of influence to make amends — because, whatever their intentions, they failed to faithfully serve the public.
Corruption is not just taking bribes or paying graft — it is lying to others and oneself in order to advance an expedient end. That does not serve a “higher” good, but only digs a deeper hole. The WTC that has virtually bankrupted the mighty Port Authority is the result of unwarranted secrecy. It could never have happened any other way.
In December, 2011, the PA finally released a “Public Version” of the Silverstein Contracts and the Master Development Agreement that we had been fighting to access for over two years. Was it a coincidence that it came after the Twin Towers Alliance was granted Amicus status in the AAA federal lawsuit, which is slowly working its way to a decison?
We don’t know if the hundreds of pages will answer any of the troubling questions we have. (For starters: Why were public contracts, involving public land and public funding, so hard to get?) We are making them available to journalists who have expressed an interest in them — and hope others will look into them as well. But so far, to our untrained eye, they’ve just led to more questions.
Why were they finally released as a “Public Version” with all of the dollar amounts redacted. That is not consistent with the Freedom of Information Law of New York which would protect current negotiations, not executed contracts. Another surprise was the information that Silverstein was supposed to pay for the clean up of the site — which cost the American taxpayers over $600 million dollars. Another was the requirement that if Silverstein could not perform on his lease, the insurance proceeds would be delivered to the Port Authority.
We will follow up with a comprehensive account of the results of our dozens of “FOIL” requests, filed over the past three years, and with letters to Larry Silverstein, Mayor Bloomberg, and others, which will be posted on the “RSVP” page. One way or another, it is time to connect all the dots, not just some of them, and to provide the public with the answers we all deserve.
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