ACLU calls for Baltimore's HQ2 proposal to be made public - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Nov. 7, 2017 8:00 am

ACLU calls for Baltimore’s HQ2 proposal to be made public

After the Sun's public records request was rebuffed, the organization filed its own to make Maryland's bids for the Amazon headquarters available to the public.

Insert Amazon here?

(Image courtesy of Under Armour)

Amid the fanfare and future-thinking surrounding Baltimore’s proposal to bring Amazon HQ2 to Port Covington, one question remained.

What’s actually in the bid?

While city officials talked about the time spent on the proposal, university and business leaders referred to the letters they included and the state indicated the incentive package was in the “billions,” not much else trickled out about the details of what is being offered.

City officials initially said they wanted to keep the bid under wraps due to competition when they sent in the package a day before it was due. Now that all 238 proposals have been sent to Seattle, they aren’t moving from that position. The Baltimore Sun submitted a public records request to unseal the docs, but were denied.

According to the Sun, the Baltimore Development Corporation contended that the proposal was submitted by Sagamore Development, which is overseeing the Port Covington development. Therefore, it’s not a public documen because it is under a private group’s purview. Sagamore, in turn, believes it is “in the best interest of Baltimore City and its residents to keep our competitive proposal confidential at this time.”

The ACLU of Maryland, however, believes it should have to be see the public light. The organization issued a public record request on Monday for the proposal in Baltimore. And they included a request for the other Maryland bids from Prince George’s, Charles, Howard and Montgomery counties, as well. (A second Baltimore bid from Old Goucher is already public). The requests were made to both the state and the local jurisdictions.

“The public has a right to see proposals submitted by their elected officials, especially when they potentially include massive taxpayer-funded subsidies,” ACLU of Maryland Senior Staff Attorney David Rocah said. “Baltimore City’s claim to the Baltimore Sun that they do not have a copy of a proposal that has been described as the City’s ‘top priority’ for the five weeks leading up to its submission is particularly laughable, as its additional claim that the proposal was not actually the City’s, but was actually submitted by Sagamore Development Corporation.”

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There were plenty of videos and hashtags to go along with the proposals, but there’s also precedent for an East Coast city releasing the full proposal from Boston. In fairness, the city didn’t offer any tax incentives at this time, so there weren’t as many figures to keep under wraps.

But there’s also the issue of who was consulted. Writing in USA Today, UT-Austin’s Nathan Jennings argues that the approach could actually “hamstring communities’ abilities” to attract Amazon. From the piece:

 In few cases do we know who was invited to the table to discuss economic development beyond politicians, land developers, and big business associations. Did small business have a voice? Were labor and environmental groups consulted? And in most cases the bids are being kept secret. We do not know who participated in the bid, and what was offered.

And as we’ve heard from others in the tech community, there’s hope that the bid could serve as a roadmap for future economic plans. So we’ll be looking out for responses to the ACLU, and report back what we hear.

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Stephen Babcock

Stephen Babcock is Market Editor for Technical.ly Baltimore and Technical.ly DC. A graduate of Northeastern University, he moved to Baltimore following stints in New Orleans and Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Baltimore Fishbowl, NOLA Defender, NOLA.com/The Times-Picayune and the Rio Grande Sun.

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