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They can’t tell us what they can’t tell us

Thursday, February 15, 2018 by Jo Clifton

The city’s Law Department notified the Austin Monitor on Wednesday that it would not provide a copy of a nondisclosure agreement signed by any city official or employee regarding the location of Amazon’s HQ2 offices. Austin is one of 20 cities competing to become Amazon’s second headquarters, where the company is expected to invest more than $5 billion and hire perhaps as many as 50,000 employees. The city and other Central Texas governmental entities are working with the Austin Chamber of Commerce to submit a proposal. The Monitors request, along with a similar request from attorney Bill Aleshire, was referred to the Texas Office of the Attorney General for a ruling on whether the city may keep the nondisclosure agreement confidential. The Monitor specifically stated that the request was not about negotiations or incentives that may have been discussed with Amazon. It was simply a request to see what the city and Amazon said when the parties agreed not to disclose any terms of the agreement. The city claims in its letter that disclosing such information “would give advantage to a competitor or bidder.” Aleshire said the fact that the Law Department has asked the attorney general for a ruling indicates that there is, in fact, a nondisclosure agreement that some city official has signed, because if there were no such agreement the city would simply tell those requesting the documents that they did not exist. Aleshire has been battling the city for quite some time over open records and open meetings. He observed that the new request for secrecy from the attorney general “is the standard of transparency from the city of Austin we are becoming accustomed to. How bad have things gotten at the city that they even keep secret their written promise to Amazon to keep their discussions secret?”

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