Minnesota’s bid to lure Amazon’s HQ2 project died in January when the state failed to make the e-commerce giant’s short list of 20 cities. But the battle to find out what was in the state’s bid package drags on. The specifics about Minnesota’s proposal have never been revealed.
St. Paul-based nonprofit Public Record Media (PRM) first requested bid information from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in October 2017. The state agency argues that it doesn’t have documents because regional development group Greater MSP handled the bid. Greater MSP contends that because it’s a private organization, data practices laws don’t apply. PRM sued DEED in June and added Greater MSP as a defendant in August.
“Both entities tried multiple ways to keep this from the press and the public,” says Matt Ehling, PRM’s executive director. The group’s suit contends that if a government agency contracts with a private group to “perform any of its functions,” then the data is subject to data practices law.
Both DEED and Greater MSP filed motions to dismiss the case. As Twin Cities Business went to press, a hearing on those motions was scheduled for Nov. 20.
DEED has disclosed a cover letter signed by Gov. Mark Dayton and other leaders and a two-page overview of state incentive programs. A Greater MSP rep declined comment. DEED also produced three boxes of printed emails between the two. Ehling says those documents make it clear how closely DEED and Greater MSP worked on the bid.
Given that Minnesota is long out of the running, why the big secret? A key factor seems to be nondisclosure agreements signed with Amazon, renowned for its secrecy. Similar battles over disclosure are playing out in many other cities.
For PRM, the crux of the issue isn’t so much the particulars of the Amazon bid, it’s about public agencies trying to conceal financial bait floated to private firms.
“We don’t want the state to have the ability to conceal information about what kind of incentive it’s going to offer to private companies,” says Ehling. “The bigger issue for us here is the long-term precedent.”