Transparency be damned in Amazon bid

Transparency be damned in Amazon bid

We learned very quickly just how unserious those riding herd over Greater Pittsburgh’s super-duper, hush-hush secret bid for Amazon’s second headquarters are about transparency.

Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records (OOR) ruled on Jan. 24 that local officials must make public their bid to secure the Internet retailing giant’s “HQ2.”

They’ll have 30 days from then to do so or to file a court appeal. If the appeals route is chosen — and it appears that will be the path of secrecy’s sycophants — the process could be exploited, dragging on and on, thus, rendering the OOR’s ruling moot.

Thus, Pittsburgh’s Amazon bidders would be using taxpayer dollars to keep hiding that bid from the public tapped to underwrite it. See how Orwellian these secrecy machinations have become?

Those same officials cited supposedly “proprietary” information in the bid as their reason for not allowing the public to see what it would pay for, likely in the form of tax credits, grants, loans and other freebies.

Early on, local officials claimed Amazon had demanded non-disclosure but it had not. Then they said that because private property was involved, they had to keep everything hush-hush.

Then they rationalized that, of course, secrecy was OK now because the offer would have to be made public eventually — after the deal was cut and it was awaiting City Council, County Council and General Assembly approval. Rubber stamps thrice?

Also last week, Amazon indeed did give the 20 finalists under consideration for “HQ2” cover moving forward for keeping quiet, asking those finalists to sign non-disclosure agreements. But it’s not clear what that “non-disclosure” refers to specifically – what the finalists have offered already or what Amazon might be demanding in addition to what’s been offered — or both.

Amazon is promising a $5 billion investment and up to 50,000 jobs over two decades with an average salary of $100,000 to the “winning” bidder. Those spendthrift bidders are pledging all manner of public dollars – largely undisclosed – to lure Amazon to their locale.

New Jersey’s bid, in fact, is reported to exceed the company’s touted investment by $2 billion. Holes in heads appear to know no limit in their depth.

Stefani Pashman, who heads the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, told the Tribune-Review about Amazon recent request for nondisclosure agreements with the finalists.

Pashman also told the Trib that Amazon’s investment could help to address the challenges the region faces regarding education, equality, inclusion and diversity.

Good grief.

Throwing even more money at Pittsburgh Public Schools won’t fix the badly broken district. (Though it might give the superintendent and school board more money to attend oversees junkets in, say, Ireland and the Caribbean, as KDKA-TV recently exposed.)

And what of the city’s crumbling water and sewer systems, its still woefully underfunded public pensions and a public transportation authority whose cost structure remains severely out whack? And what as well of a city government ever promulgating more and more onerous regulations that sully the business climate and proclaim “We’re NOT open for business?”

In an interesting turn, the Tribune-Review reported Friday that “PGHQ2,” the consortium of government officials and non-government organizations (such as the Allegheny Conference on Community Development) formed to put together the secret Amazon bid, registered this past October as a limited liability corporation with the Pennsylvania Department of State.

If this was an attempt to circumvent public disclosure by claiming that one corporation was not required to divulge its business dealings with another corporation – and reasonable people can and are thinking just that — well, that’s absolutely deceitful and shameful.

Such behavior shows how little regard this group truly has for the taxpayers that it expects to underwrite Amazon’s expansion. And it also suggests that the freebie offers to Amazon are beyond the pale.

Colin McNickle is a senior fellow and media specialist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).