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Allegheny

Pittsburgh's Amazon HQ2 team won't release details, denies record requests

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, 5:33 p.m.
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks during a press conference following Pittsburgh's application to Amazon as a destination for their HQ2, at the City County Building.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks during a press conference following Pittsburgh's application to Amazon as a destination for their HQ2, at the City County Building.

Pittsburgh and Allegheny County government officials remained resolute in their refusal to offer more details about what they offered Amazon more than a month after Pittsburgh submitted its bid to attract the company's second headquarters.

Several news organizations, including the Tribune-Review, filed open records requests under the state's Right-to-Know Law seeking more information about the bid.

Those requests have been denied.

“We're not going to show our playbook,” Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny Conference on Community Development CEO Stefani Pashman wrote in a joint statement issued Tuesday in response to the records requests.

“We believe that Pittsburgh is a strong contender for Amazon's HQ2. Our proposal defines why in detail, and in the midst of an unprecedented competition, we continue to believe that it is in the region's best interest if those details — at this point in the process — are for Amazon's consideration only.”

Pittsburgh's bid was one of 238 submitted to Amazon in October for HQ2 and the 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment that come with it. The bid was two inches thick . Its details, including what incentives the state, county or city offered the company, have remained secret.

Officials who worked on the bid refused to release details immediately after it was submitted, citing a confidentiality agreement with Amazon. The reason given for keeping the bid a secret has shifted in recent weeks to protecting a competitive advantage.

“We routinely meet with companies looking to invest in this region. Such meetings often include detailed discussions about economic growth and jobs, and proposals — if appropriate — are specifically tailored to what the economic impact of such a location would be to our region. Those companies expect a candidness in the conversations that they have, and that those discussions will be kept private. Without that expected discretion, many would not even consider this region,” Fitzgerald, Peduto and Pashman wrote in the statement.

Reporters for the Tribune-Review have personally asked Gov. Tom Wolf, Fitzgerald and Peduto for more information about the bid and have been denied. The Trib on Oct. 20, a day after bids for HQ2 were due, filed open record requests with the offices of the governor, county executive and mayor.

The Trib asked the state, county and city for copies of any letters, emails, handwritten notes or similar communications written by or signed by Peduto or Fitzgerald and sent to Amazon regarding the bid. The city and county denied those requests last week.

C.J. Liss, the city's open records officer and assistant solicitor, wrote that the records sought by the Trib are not public. Jerry Tyskiewicz, director of the county's Department of Administrative Services and the county's open record officer, wrote that the records do not exist.

The state granted the Trib's request, “in full,” according to a letter from Marc Eisenstein, an open records officer for the state. Eisenstein directed the Trib to a website, https://www.pa.gov/guides/amazon-in-pa/ , where a letter from Wolf, and leaders in the General Assembly, is posted.

Despite granting the request in full, the state appeared to have left out in its response a handwritten letter Wolf told the Trib he sent Amazon .

Some cities and states released details about their bids soon after they were submitted. Others have had to release information under public record laws.

Danny Westneat, a business columnist for the Seattle Times, wrote last week that details of about 30 bids have been made public , including Chicago offering to let Amazon keep $1.32 billion in income taxes paid by its own employees.

Colorado released a copy of its bid but redacted details about proposed locations and incentives , according to the Denver Post.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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