Jackson and Budish, Handcuffed by Business Leaders, Refuse to Release Amazon Bid


  • Photo by Mike Seyfang/Flickr
Both the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have declined to release the contents of the city's failed Amazon HQ2 bid in the wake of a decision by the Ohio Court of Claims. That decision, reported Monday, ruled that material prepared by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency for the bid does not constitute confidential trade secrets and should be made public.

The city of Cleveland released a statement Monday afternoon from law director Barbara Langhenry noting that the city was not a party to the NOACA lawsuit.

"The issue of the release of the Amazon bid by the City is the subject of separate litigation pending before the Ohio Court of Claims," Langhenry said. "The City will not release its records at this time.”

Same story with the county. A spokesperson told Cleveland.com's Mark Naymik Monday that the county was "not ready" to release the information.

O, What stubborn bozos we've elected!
What mortal coil, what dread, we long to air.
For from their sacred duties they've defected:
Look on their works, ye lowly, and despair.

Recall that back in January, shortly after Amazon announced its list of HQ2 finalists, sans Cleveland, the Mayor's office released a statement claiming the city was actively meeting with its legal team and its partners to review "what (if anything) [was] releasable."

That was of course instantly and rightly identified as hogwash. The city does the bidding (no pun intended) of the growth coalition, the economic development machine consisting of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, Team NEO and the like, and any meeting with that crew — in private, natch — likely just consisted of stern instruction to keep the bid under lock and key on pain of economic calamity. 

Jackson and Budish, who's prickly these days thanks to a corruption investigation and widespread rancor at E. 9th and Prospect, but who's nevertheless running unopposed for another term as County Executive, just keep looking dumber and dumberer in all this. We now know — or rather, it has been decided by an impartial court — that the entire bid should be releasable. No more meetings need occur. The Court of Claims' special master Jeff Clark stated in his 18-page decision what we've been trying to say all along, that the arguments for the bid's secrecy have ceased to make any sense. Chief among them had been that versions of the bid will be used to lure other corporations who may want to relocate, hence the "trade secret" stuff.

But the incentives offered to future relocating corporations may be wildly different from the Amazon incentives, for one thing, just by dint of fluctuating economic conditions. For another, much of the information contained in the Amazon bid, per Clark, consists of publicly available "descriptive, conclusory statements and promotional rhetoric." Furthermore, Frank Jackson campaigned in 2017 on assurances of greater transparency. And this is the opposite, though it's in keeping with Cleveland's sacrosanct cultural traditions.

Lest anyone have delusions to the contrary, the bid itself probably won't be anything special. Other than the proposed site, which the NOACA records may or may not reveal conclusively, and the exact degree of lavishness in the tax incentives offered, it's a good bet that there won't be a whole lot of "news."

If that's the case — and again, all we can do is speculate — this makes the bid's secrecy, and the doubling down by public officials, even more embarrassing. It now appears that these officials (at the behest of Team NEO and others) are merely prolonging this annoying back and forth, awaiting another legal decision from a court that just decided much of the bid's contents should be public, for no other reason than that they are ashamed.

Which would have been okay! In fact, it may have presented an opportunity for some good old-fashioned regional unity and self-betterment. If, as is likely the case, Cleveland was nixed by Amazon because the regional workforce simply couldn't stack up in size and educational attainment, leaders could have said: "We are ashamed and we are sorry. We now plan to introduce, with buy-in from the business community, investments A, B and C, with the hopes of improving workforce development, specialized job-readiness programs, and job accessibility." OR WHATEVER! Clevelanders would have known why the city wasn't considered, and leaders could have worked to address those issues, if they deemed them urgent.

Instead, the rhetoric around the bid was how "exciting" and "strong" it was, and how it represented such exemplary regional collaboration. In the wake of the finalist selection, leaders wanted locals to feel not that Cleveland was overlooked because of legitimate inadequacies, but that the city had been wronged. Being passed over was to be interpreted as an indignity. We got the RNC! Remember! We know how to win! It's all about winning for us!

Keeping that narrative afloat requires conviction and commitment. Among other things, it requires that all documentation to the contrary be suppressed. So instead of a public accounting of the Amazon bid's strengths and weaknesses, elected leaders and their overlords will fight like hell to keep it in the shadows. Business, as far as they're concerned, is not the public's business. 

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