Others’ opinion: Amazon bid should be public record

Published 7:48 am Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Mankato Free Press

Minnesota recently lost its bid to land a second Amazon headquarters and a potential 50,000 jobs, but unfortunately Minnesota taxpayers won’t know much about the bid.

The state Department of Employment and Economic Development and Greater MSP, a nonprofit development organization that submitted the bid, have declined reasonable requests to make it public, even with the state no longer in the running.

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That rejection of public disclosure goes against the spirit of the state’s open records law, if not against the letter of the law itself.

DEED rejected the request for disclosure from Public Record Media, a St. Paul nonprofit, saying first that it did not have a copy of the full bid and second that because it outsourced the job to a nonprofit, it wasn’t required to disclose the information.

The Minnesota Data Practices Act requires disclosure of the information in a contract between the government and a vendor if the vendor is performing a “government function.”

The bid contained state tax incentives and other details about infrastructure and other “government functions.” So to suggest Greater MSP was not performing a “government function” is a bit of a stretch.

Public Record Media also made a request of Greater MSP for a copy of the proposal. Greater MSP said it could not disclose the bid because it has signed a confidentiality agreement with Amazon. But now that the bid has been rejected, it seems disclosure would be the right thing to do in the interests of transparency.

No one is arguing that the bid should have been disclosed before the bidding process was done. That may have indeed tipped the state’s hand when it came to competitors. But even then, DEED could have applied for a temporary classification as “private” from the public disclosure law and may have been granted it.

The public has an interest in learning the details of the bid. There was a lot at stake with an Amazon headquarters and word was out that Minnesota submitted an underwhelming bid, possibly influenced by a desire for existing businesses in the state to avoid competition for wages and labor.

DEED’s response that it doesn’t have a copy is troubling and borders on obfuscation. Disclosure would serve all Minnesota taxpayers.

— Jan. 23

Why it matters:

The state of Minnesota seems to be dodging legitimate requests to disclose the details of its unsuccessful bid to secure a second Amazon headquarters.