Battle Over State Bid for Amazon’s HQ2 Continues

Battle Over State Bid for Amazon’s HQ2 Continues

Public Record Media files appeal to district court decision which kept details under wraps.

St. Paul-based Public Record Media is primed for continued battle to uncover the details of state’s submitted bid to land Amazon’s HQ2 in the fall of 2017. The nonprofit PRM filed suit last year against the state’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and regional economic development group Greater MSP, the two entities that worked on assembling the state’s pitch to the e-commerce giant. PRM lost at the district court level in a ruling issued January 3rd; on Thursday the group filed an appeal in the case.

DEED has argued that it doesn’t have a copy of the bid. Greater MSP contends that as a private group it is not subject to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act. Ramsey County District Judge Leonardo Castro found that the bid does not need to be disclosed because there was no contract between Greater MSP and the state. The decision was a ruling on motions to dismiss the case that had been filed by both Greater MSP and DEED.

PRM, which focuses on government data transparency, had 60 days to decide if it would file an appeal.

Among the issues in the appeal are whether or not summary judgement should have been granted in the case. PRM executive director Matt Ehling notes that summary judgement should only be granted when there are no factual disputes in a case.

“There are lots and lots of factual disputes here,” said Ehling.

Ehling also argues that it’s clear from material they’ve gathered that DEED was working in concert with Greater MSP on the bid and that DEED staffers had access to bid materials through an online portal. Ehling believes that the potential ramifications of the case go far beyond Amazon.

“If the district’s court’s opinion holds on this matter then data that’s housed on cloud-based computer systems is going to be inaccessible to data practices requests,” said Ehling.

Amazon announced its search for a second headquarters in September 2017; proposals were due in mid-October 2017. The bait for communities was that Amazon touted a $5 billion investment and 50,000 high-paying jobs to the winner. Minnesota has been out of the picture since January 2018 when the company announced its short list of 20 cities. But a key issue in the ongoing dispute appears to be that Greater MSP signed a non-disclosure agreement with Amazon.

On Thursday PRM also fired off letters to Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison asking for their help in resolving the matter without further litigation. Walz and Ellison are both new to office: neither had any involvement in the HQ2 bid. The same holds true for new DEED Commissioner Steve Grove, a Walz appointee.

PRM’s letter concludes: “PRM now respectfully asks both of you to take all steps needed to achieve full disclosure of the state’s Amazon HQ2 bid.”

A spokesman for Gov. Walz could not immediately be reached for comment.

Is Ehling hopeful that newly-elected state leaders will be more sympathetic to releasing the bid information?

“We would hope that there’s a willingness on their part to have that discussion,” Ehling told Twin Cities Business. “We are hoping that they are willing to at least enter into a discussion about what can be done to resolve this.”