Why is Mayor Nutter's administration applying star-chamber secrecy to its deliberations on a public policy issue of widespread interest: whether to let duck-boat tours disrupt the bucolic Schuylkill?

This isn't exactly the Manhattan Project.

Yet Managing Director Richard Negrin refuses to name the city officials who are advising the mayor on whether Ride the Ducks will get to resume tours this spring, eight months after the death of two patrons in a July 7 crash on the Delaware River.

Committee members were pulled together from Negrin's staff, the Planning Commission, the mayor's transportation office, the Commerce Department, and the Parks and Recreation Department.

Under the state's open records law, there are no grounds to keep their identities secret.

But an aide says Negrin is keeping the panel cloaked so that its members can "review the proposal without being pressured."

By that logic, though, City Council should hold its sessions in private so the members could deliberate without any pressure.

The lack of disclosure doesn't say much for the mayor's pledge of an open and transparent City Hall, either.

It could reinforce the perception that the skids have been greased for the duck boats, regardless of the ill-advised plan to bring the World War II-style vehicles traveling across town, filled with quacking tourists, to the Schuylkill.

After all, the city and Ride the Ducks officials first announced the tour's return to operation only to be advised by the city solicitor to first seek bids. Then the request for proposals for a waterborne tour produced only one bidder: Ride the Ducks.

With only one bidder, the city's best course seems clear: Seek another round of bids or, better yet, scrap the whole idea of an amphibious tour.

Rather than anybody pressuring city officials to make a sensible decision, the administration appears to be ignoring impassioned public opposition to relaunching the duck-boat tours and moving them from the Delaware.

Community residents are right that the gas-guzzling, duck-boat vehicles would be an unwelcome presence anywhere near the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Art Museum, or the Schuylkill Banks trail.

That, at least, is no secret.