Pittsburgh, Allegheny County appeal Amazon HQ2 bid release
Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have appealed an order from Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records to make public the bid it submitted to Amazon for its second headquarters.
The move will keep the bid and any related emails secret as the matter moves to Allegheny County Court.
The city and county argued the state Office of Open Records erred in its decision to order the bid and emails be made public. Attorneys asked the county court to vacate the office’s ruling and dismiss the matter.
PGHQ2, a private company formed to develop the bid, announced the appeals in a statement Friday. The appeal was filed Friday afternoon.
“To be clear, if the Pittsburgh region is selected by Amazon, and a deal is reached on what incentives will be offered, anything that involves government funds will go through a robust, public process as the legislative bodies do their due diligence,” PGHQ2 said in the statement. “There will be every opportunity for the public to weigh in on those proposals and to have their voice heard.”
Neither Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald nor Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto would comment further.
PGHQ2 said it would release the bid if the other 19 finalists release their bids, noting that only two cities have them public. Philadelphia released its bid but redacted about a third of it, including all information related to incentives, subsidies and real estate.
Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are among the 20 finalists for Amazon HQ2.
The second headquarters could bring 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment.
Pittsburgh and Allegheny County had until Friday to release the bid or appeal the decision. WTAE reporter Paul Van Osdol and several other journalists, including the Tribune-Review, filed open records requests under the state’s Right-to-Know Law seeking copies of the bid submitted to Amazon and emails, letters and other communications between public officials and with the company.
Those requests were initially denied, prompting appeals to the state’s Office of Open Records. The office ruled Jan. 24 in response to WTAE’s request that the city must release the bid and related emails and the county must release the bid within 30 days or appeal the order to Allegheny County Court.
The city, in its appeal, claimed the state Office of Open Records was wrong and abused its discretion in its order to release both the bid and emails. The county was only ordered to release the bid after it proved that no emails or other correspondence existed.
“The OOR Appeals Officer made numerous important factual errors that rendered the conclusions in the Final Determination legally erroneous,” the county wrote in its appeal.
Both the city and county argued in their initial denials that the bids were exempt from Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law because they contained trade secrets and confidential information. The state Office of Open Records disagreed, ordering the documents be released.
The appeals from the city and county both contend that statements made by Erik Arneson, executive director of the state office, show that the office was biased in its decisions.
Arneson and the office could not be reached Friday.
The Office of Open Records ordered the city and county to comply with other open record requests, including one from the Tribune-Review, related to Amazon after it ruled on the WTAE matter. Those orders will likely be appealed as well.