ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – A government transparency watchdog claims in court that Minnesota has refused to hand over a copy of its unsuccessful proposal for Amazon’s second corporate headquarters.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) produced thousands of pages of records in connection with the state’s bid for Amazon’s new headquarters but did not turn over the bid itself, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
Represented by St. Paul attorney J.T. Haines, Public Record Media (PRM) sued DEED in Ramsey County District Court seeking a declaratory judgment that the department’s actions violate the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act and Minnesota Official Records Act.
Amazon solicited bids for a second corporate North American headquarters last September. More than 230 cities in 43 states submitted bids, including a proposal from Minnesota officials.
The state’s bid was ultimately declined, but the proposal itself still remains undisclosed to the public, according to PRM.
PRM – a nonprofit that says it pursues transparency through freedom of information laws – claims the proposal was prepared and submitted through DEED and economic development group Greater MSP with input from the state lawmakers.
According to the lawsuit, PRM submitted requests to DEED for a copy of the bid and related data on Oct. 19, 2017, and again on May 8, 2018.
“Since that date, DEED has produced thousands of pages of data in response – relating to, among other things, its contributions to the editing and review of at least portions of the bid – but not the bid itself,” the complaint states.
PRM also claims DEED has had clear access to the bid document through a file-sharing network with Greater MSP called the “Box.”
DEED has not denied that it has access to the contents of the Box, but instead has taken the position that the bid document itself “was never collected, created, received, maintained, or disseminated” by DEED, according to the lawsuit.
PRM, however, claims DEED’s internal correspondences indicate the state agency’s ongoing access to the Box and to the Amazon proposal document itself.
The watchdog’s attorney, Haines, said the group believes DEED is ultimately responsible for producing the Amazon the bid.
“It’s key to the integrity of the [Minnesota Government Data Practices Act] that an agency not be permitted to evade its requirements simply by engaging in an ambiguous arrangement with a non-governmental collaborator and a joint file-sharing network. That would completely violate the express intent of the act,” he said in a statement.
But DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy said in a statement that the agency has disclosed all relevant records and any other information is in the hands of Greater MSP.
“All information concerning the state of Minnesota’s role, and offers of state taxpayer incentives to Amazon have been publicly disclosed. Greater MSP assembled and submitted the regions complete proposal for this project. The remainder of the proposal materials are in Greater MSP’s possession and are within their purview to disclose,” Hardy said.
PRM wants a state judge to order DEED to hand over a draft or final copy of the Amazon headquarters bid, in addition to having to pay civil penalties, damages and attorney fees.
Amazon.com is the fourth largest company in the world by market capitalization. It employs more than 340,000 people and had a 2017 annual revenue of $178 billion.
In January, the online retail giant narrowed its search for a second headquarters to 20 cities, including Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Atlanta.
Its first headquarters is in Seattle.