When the New York Times received its public information act request on Montgomery County’s incentive offer to Amazon to locate its second headquarters here, the newspaper received 10 pages of material – with every word redacted.
But Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett is making no apologies for the lack of transparency in the bid process, saying its secrecy is a prerequisite for attracting the tech-retail giant to the County.
“We're not going to discuss any of the details of our proposal at this point and time,” Leggett said. “Obviously, if we are moving forward, if Montgomery County is in the final running to get this, at that point of time, we will have everything open for people to have a discussion about.”
While other jurisdictions, including the State of Maryland, have publically released details of incentives they are offering to Amazon, Montgomery County is among many jurisdictions bidding to be the home of the retail giant that are refusing to release any details.
Leggett said Amazon asked the County, and other jurisdictions that put in a bid for Amazon’s HQ2, to keep their bids confidential and that the County plans to honor that commitment. In addition, Leggett said, if the County made details of its bid public, it could cause a bidding war with other jurisdictions, as competing cities try to one-up another to land Amazon’s HQ2.
Patrick Lacefield, director of public information for the County and the person who redacted the documents the County sent to the New York Times, could not be reached by the publication time of this story. Lacefield’s deputy, Ohene Gyapong, said Lacefield is the only person in the County Public Information Office who handled the Times’ request.
While Montgomery County is refusing to disclose any details related to its bid, other jurisdictions are not following suit.
The Maryland General Assembly passed a bill in its last session, approving $8.5 billion in incentives for Amazon to locate its headquarters in Maryland. While the state and County are working together on the bid, Leggett said the County will not disclose, unless Amazon picks Montgomery County.
Maryland’s package includes $6.5 billion in tax subsidies, and $2 billion in transit funding.
“At an appropriate period in time, all of that will be open and discussed,” Leggett said.
Boston, one of the 20 finalists to land Amazon’s new headquarters, has released its request for proposals, complete with every detail of its bid.
However, the County is not alone in its lack of transparency.
Other jurisdictions like Indianapolis, Indiana, and Austin, Texas, have yet to reveal details of their bids – even to lawmakers, according to the Times.
In Montgomery County, Leggett and his staff met with members of the County Council in a closed session, but Leggett said he did not disclose details of the County’s bid to them, saying the meeting was about the process.
Leggett did say he and his staff met with representatives of Amazon in the spring, but declined to say what the meeting was about or who exactly he met with.
At-large Council member Nancy Floreen said she supports the County’s bid to attract Amazon, saying it would have a massive positive economic impact on the County to attract the tech giant, which promises to bring up to 50,000 jobs to whatever area it picks for its HQ2.
Floreen declined to comment on what she and other members of the County Council discussed with the County Executive’s staff, saying the meeting was a closed session and that she could not talk about the details.
“Council members are routinely made aware of things that are not public knowledge,” Floreen said.
The representatives of Amazon said the company will make a final decision about the location of its HQ2 by the end of the year.