Amazon bid secrecy defiles ‘public policy’

Amazon bid secrecy defiles ‘public policy’

A Post-Gazette story wonders if cities such as Pittsburgh – which appears to be out of the running for Amazon’s headquarters expansion plans – “should … feel short-changed.”

After all, the city and Allegheny County, if not the entire region, incurred great expense – in time, labor and money (though the exact amount remains unknown to the public) – to create its Amazon bid.

When it comes to the erstwhile Steel City, at least, the answer should be a resounding “YES! We have been short-changed!”

But it’s certainly not for the reasons the P-G highlighted.

The story is well told (if not growing long in the tooth) how more than 200 American cities pledged public dollars and resources to the extraordinarily wealthy Seattle retailing giant hoping to lure tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investment.

One general thrust of the Post-Gazette story is that Amazon likely had a pre-ordained short list of new headquarters sites and that areas the size of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area really never stood a chance.

Never mind that “more than 400 stakeholders collaborated in the bidding effort and a new entity – PGHQ2 – was formed to lead the charge … ,” the P-G details.

So, “Was it all an exercise in futility?” the newspaper asks.

For sound public policy it certainly was.

For truth from elected and appointed public leaders it certainly was.

Think of the subterfuges employed by public officials doing the public’s bidding – especially the formation of PGHQ2, a shell entity within the Allegheny Conference on Community Development that at least one judge concluded was created to circumvent the public’s right to know.

Think, too, of the untold thousands of dollars still being expended by “public servants” to abuse the legal system and tie up the courts to appeal multiple rulings that Greater Pittsburgh’s Amazon bid is the definition of a public record.

Surely, those public officials involved in this machination-filled process must believe, as author Alexander Pope wrote in 1732, that “The public is a fool.”

Or is it, as Nicolas Chamfort wrote in 1785: “The public! The public! How many fools are needed to make the public!”

Maybe Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials believe, as William Hazlitt wrote in 1821, that “The public is pusillanimous and cowardly because it is weak. It knows itself to be a great dunce and that it has no opinion but upon suggestion.”

It could be, that in typical government fashion, those who promulgated Greater Pittsburgh’s Amazon bid and seek to hide it still from the public simply don’t think too much of those who, in reality, are their bosses.

Or as H.G. Bohn put it in 1855: “He who serves the public hath but a scurvy master.”

Then there are these pithy assessments:

From John Ruskin in 1865: “The public is just a great baby.”

From W.H. Vanderbilt in 1882: “The public be damned.”

From Oscar Wilde in 1891: “The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything, except what is worth knowing.”

That is, government thinks it knows best and believes it should be the arbiter of what the public should know.

Indeed, “the public” has a never-ending responsibility in promoting good governance. As John Stuart Mill reminded (in “Representative Government” from 1861):

“Government consists of acts done by human beings; and if … those who choose the agents, or those to whom the agents are responsible, or the lookers-on whose opinion ought to influence and check all these, are mere masses of ignorance (and) stupidity, every operation of government will go wrong.”

Consider the continuing actions of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials to keep the Amazon bid secret an attempt to keep the masses ignorant. And that’s nothing more than public policy malpractice – and government gone wrong.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).