A proposal for a new Grand Prix contract will be presented at a hastily rescheduled meeting on Belle Isle Friday morning. The last-minute switch of meeting times makes it difficult for the public to attend.
On July 3, the DNR notified park staff and conservancy members that the contract proposal will be “presented” by the Grand Prix organization at what appears to be the monthly meeting of the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee on July 13. The meeting is normally held on the third Thursday of each month, and the DNR website all year had this month’s meeting set for July 19.
The DNR has not issued any press release announcing the sudden change of date for this crucial meeting, which will be the first opportunity for the public to learn anything about the proposed contract.
“This looks like a last-minute dodge to keep public scrutiny to a minimum,” says Sandra Novacek of Belle Isle Concern. “In any case, the BIPAC should have no business discussing the Grand Prix because of the obvious conflicts of interests on that body.”
At least three of the seven members of the committee have financial ties to Roger Penske. Chairperson Michele Hodges is paid nearly $200,000 as president of the Belle Isle Conservancy, whose budget is buttressed by the annual Grand Prixmiere gala fundraiser. Sommer Woods is VP of external relations for M1 Rail—whose board Roger Penske chairs—and her firm has had contracts with the Grand Prix. Bud Denker, president of Penske Corp., also has a seat on the BIPAC.
The public cannot ask questions or get answers during BIPAC meetings. Members of the public get only three minutes apiece of comment time at the end of the meeting.
It’s not clear what happens next with the contract proposal. “Once a formal proposal has been received, review and consideration of the proposal will commence,” Olson wrote in the July 3 memo. Olson did not explain what that review would consist of and did not reply to an email requesting an explanation.
“Holding the Grand Prix in a public park violates the public trust and the mission and stewardship criteria of the DNR and the Belle Isle Conservancy,” says Sandra Novacek, head of Belle Isle Concern, a citizen group that opposes the race. “Belle Isle is a public park and natural resource that should provide free and unrestricted access to people every day of the year.” mence,” Olson wrote in the July 3 memo. Olson did not explain what that review would consist of and did not reply to an email requesting an explanation.