Ald. Bridget Maniaci has been vigorously campaigning against a proposal (PDF) by a Madison couple, David Waugh and Bob Klebba, to buy the Collins House at James Madison Park from the city and run it as a bed-and-breakfast, as it was years ago.
The couple have opposed Maniaci politically. But she contends that she's against their proposal because another one - to keep the Collins House as a single-family residence - would better preserve the historic building. The bed-and-breakfast project has been working its way through city committees and seems destined for a battle at the Common Council.
In making her case, Maniaci set off alarm bells with the city attorney's office. Before the Plan Commission last week, Maniaci said she'd looked at room tax rates from when the Collins House last operated and was concerned about whether two B&Bs could operate successfully so close together (the Livingston Inn is nearby, and its owners oppose the project).
As an elected official, Maniaci has the power to review hotel tax returns, but the city is obligated by state law to keep the records confidential.
"It gives a lot of detailed financial information about how many people stayed at the hotel and what they paid," explains city attorney Mike May. "That includes quite a bit of confidential private information that competitors don't want laid out in public."
May stops short of saying Maniaci violated any laws, but he wishes she'd handled the situation differently. "If you want to see this information, staff can summarize it for you and it won't have the actual numbers," he says. "If you really think everybody's got to see the real numbers, we'll have to have a closed session, and we'll lay those numbers out."
Maniaci says there was confusion over what she was allowed to say about the figures, but she believes the information is important. When the Board of Estimates takes up the project, she might ask for a closed session.
"It's real live data about having two nearly identical business models operating three doors apart," she says. "Clearly it's relevant financial information."