Why Won't Cleveland Officials Release Amazon Bid Details?


  • Photo by Mike Seyfang/Flickr
Thursday afternoon, Mayor Frank Jackson joined County Executive Armond Budish to announce that Cleveland had submitted its bid to land the tech giant Amazon's second headquarters — the so-called “HQ2.” Cleveland joined more than 100 other cities across the country in efforts to lure or beg for what could be an investment of $5 billion and 50,000 high-paying jobs.

Budish, in keeping with custom, was “very excited” about the bid. He said that more than 20 local organizations and 90 individuals had worked days, nights and even weekends over the past several weeks to assemble the package. We know the bid was submitted by TeamNEO and the Greater Cleveland Partnership on behalf of the public entities, but that’s all we know.

The bid itself, for undisclosed reasons, remains “proprietary,” meaning no specifics have been revealed. Neither the proposed location for the Amazon site nor the financial incentives attached, nor even the ways that Cleveland chose to promote itself, were shared with the media. Reporters were left to convey the excitement itself or else to complain about the lack of details.

Though Frank Jackson remained subdued as ever during the press conference, Budish’s exultations — “I truly believe that this is the best location for Amazon in the country” — were unaccompanied by evidence.

Other cities, like Detroit, released their bids with splashy videos and literature. Some cities elected not to reveal key details, like the proposed site location, but nevertheless sketched out the central points of their bids. Denver highlighted the talent and education of its workforce, for example. Other cities, like Columbus provided the bid information when local media submitted public records requests. In Boston, information from the bid led to a report that transportation accessibility and commute times had been generously overstated.

In Cleveland, we have nothing, and the city refuses to say why. Frank Jackson told Channel 5 that the information would be provided “in a few weeks,” but gave no explanation for the delay. We have to assume the bid exists — something was submitted last week — so what’s the hold-up? As we Tweeted Friday, if officials are so excited about the bid, why not share what’s so exciting?

When Scene requested clarification from the city — what made the information in question “proprietary,” we asked — we received a public records tracking number. In this instance, we weren't requesting a record. We just wanted justification for the information having been withheld. Besides, given the city’s notorious hostility toward transparency and public records, the tracking number may as well have been a honking middle finger.

The Plain Dealer interviewed Mayor Frank Jackson and Councilman Zack Reed last week in preparation for a mayoral endorsement and they pressed Jackson on this issue. Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn mentioned that Cleveland.com’s lawyers were currently negotiating with the city’s law department over public records and that a significant lawsuit may be forthcoming.

“We’ve been around a long time,” said Quinn (at about the 45:00 mark), “and there’s nobody who has had a worse record with public records… This has been a big problem. The media does not have the money to launch what would be an expensive lawsuit.”

Jackson responded, “Whatever you’re entitled to is what you should have.”

Implicit in his response — and doubly so when the alternative media is concerned — is that we’re not entitled to much.

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