Digital rights and transparency advocacy group Lucy Parsons Labs filed suit last week against the city of Chicago, stating that the Mayor’s Office refusal to release documents regarding the city’s bid for Amazon’s second headquarters constituted a “willful violation of the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.”
LPL is maintaining that Chicago is in violation of FOIA law by refusing to release the details of their proposal under the guise of competitive harm, with the suit arguing that, “Since the bidding period has ended, disclosure cannot result in competitive harm.” The bidding period for Amazon HQ2 ended this past October, yet many cities have used similar rationale to avoid publication.
“Legal action is a warranted but expensive task that people should take on,” wrote LPL’s Freddy Martinez in an email. LPL argues that other finalists Boston, Miami, Philadelphia and Montgomery County, Maryland, have all broadcasted their proposals to the public and are, “highlighting the fact that disclosure will not cause competitive harm”. These cities have all released their bids to MuckRock.
LPL cites another important piece of Illinois FOIA law and the essence of FOIA itself…
There is no denying that this has been an extremely public competition with high levels of public interest. Allowing Chicago and cities like it to sidestep a reasonable FOIA request and place the protection of their economic interests over the public’s right to know will only work to corrode our rightful access to public information.
Martinez agrees - “I think cities should be actively releasing their bids, not just because it’s in the public interest but also to protect their own interests … look at the history of tax incentives like Tesla) and see that the secretive bidding is really a race to the bottom for communities.” In an Amazonian bidding race build a Tesla manufacturing plant, Nevada will shell out the largest tax incentives in the state’s history - upwards of $1.3 billion in tax benefits for the electric car mogul. Economists have questioned the stability of the deal and the future of Nevada’s bargaining power.
LPL references another deal in the suit - the city’s parking meter privatization project, which as Martinez explained, has so far cost taxpayers, “$41 million. That amount will continue to rise since the city must reimburse the parking meter company for any lost revenue.” With little to no transparency, these “megadeals” are being made with private business interests in mind over the impact on public cost.
“I am surprised that other journalists are not looking at this issue more closely, especially given the potential cost to all of us. I don’t think legal action will make other cities ‘go dark’, it’s kind of already the status quo.”
Browse the full suit embedded below.
- Small Red - No Responsive Documents
- Large Red - Rejected
- Small Yellow - Awaiting Acknowledgement
- Orange - Fix Required
- Small Green - Partially Completed
- Large Green - Completed