A state agency has ordered Philadelphia officials to release details of their financial enticements for Amazon to open its planned second headquarters in the city, rejecting arguments that the offer was a trade secret worthy of protection from public view.
In a ruling Thursday, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records gave officials with the Commerce Department and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corp. 30 days to release their bid to host the planned corporate campus — with financial incentives intact — to Megan Shannon, a citizen who sought the information in January.
Amazon named Philadelphia, along with Pittsburgh, among the 20 North American localities under consideration for the headquarters project. The company has said it plans to invest more than $5 billion on the campus, where it will employ up to 50,000 people.
This week’s decision by the Open Records Office represents the latest challenge to efforts by local and state officials to keep their offers to the Seattle company under wraps for fear of tipping off other competitors for the campus in the United States and Canada.
“The city and PIDC have not demonstrated how the city incentives have economic value by not being known to other persons, or how those other persons can obtain economic value from its disclosure,” Benjamin A. Lorah, an appeals officer with the state Open Records Office, wrote in his ruling. “The city is required to disclose the city incentive proposal to the requester within 30 days.”
Mayor Kenney’s spokesman Mike Dunn and PIDC spokeswoman Jessica Calter said in separate but identically worded statements that officials are reviewing the ruling but “anticipate filing an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas.”
Shannon’s original Jan. 18 request under the state’s Right-to-Know Law asked for all documents sent by Philadelphia to Amazon in response to the company’s September 2017 request for bids to host the second headquarters, according to background information contained in the ruling.
More than a month later, she received a version of Philadelphia’s pitch to the company with details of financial incentives for the company redacted, under the justification that the enticements constitute confidential proprietary information and a trade secret.
The Inquirer was sent a similarly redacted document in December in response to a request filed under the public records law. It is awaiting a response to a second set of requests that city officials have said would be delivered by April 30 after the newspaper granted them a series of extensions beyond an original due date in early March.
Shannon identified herself in an email to the Inquirer last month as a defense lawyer on insurance cases and said she was seeking details of the proposal as a “potentially disgruntled citizen.” She challenged the city’s grounds for withholding the incentives package in her appeal to the Open Records Office, which ultimately sided with her in its decision this week.
Shannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Chamber of Commerce president Rob Wonderling said in October that Pennsylvania officials were prepared to offer the company more than $1 billion in tax incentives if the state were selected but declined to share more specific details.
Documents released to the Inquirer in March in response to a Right-to-Know request refer to a Department of Community and Economic Development incentive proposal that was “specifically created for the HQ2 Project,” but any information quantifying those incentives had been redacted.
The decision comes days after Gov. Wolf’s administration filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn an Open Records Office order to release proposals it had worked on for sites in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and the Lehigh Valley to the Morning Call newspaper of Allentown.
“It’s an ongoing, highly competitive process in which terms that other cities and states could offer could change, so we believe it makes the most competitive sense for us to have appropriate leverage in the process to make sure Pennsylvania is best positioned to get this,” Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott told the Associated Press after the suit was filed Tuesday.
The City of Pittsburgh and surrounding Allegheny County also sued to block the release of their bids after being ordered to do so in response to a request by Pittsburgh’s WTAE-TV.
Outside the state, few candidates on Amazon’s shortlist of 20 locations have shared details of their offers to the company.
Maryland, where lawmakers earlier this month approved $6.5 billion in tax incentives for the company, is one exception. That package came in addition to $2 billion pledged for infrastructure and transportation improvements in the area of Montgomery County, outside Washington, that Amazon has under consideration, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, meanwhile, signed legislation in January offering $7 billion in state and city tax credits for the company to locate in Newark. Still, the city released its actual proposal to the company only this week in response to a lawsuit, with five pages of the more-than-200-page document redacted, NJ.com reported.