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Take a look at who requested Pittsburgh's Amazon HQ2 bid be made public

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018, 3:27 p.m.

Like many, Brenda Walsh was curious what Pittsburgh included in its proposal to Amazon for its second headquarters.

So she asked for a copy of it.

"I wanted to see what's in it that includes Monroeville," said Walsh, 60, who moved to Monroeville about four years ago and thought the old Westinghouse property nearby would make a great location for Amazon's HQ2. "And of course, the rest of it too."

The county and city received 17 open record requests for information between September and mid-December pertaining to Pittsburgh's bid to Amazon, according to documents the Tribune-Review obtained under the Right-to-Know Law. The requests asked for copies of the bid; emails, letters and other communication between public officials and with Amazon about the bid; contracts with companies helping Pittsburgh with the bid; agreements with land owners and developers; studies conducted for or used in the bid and more. One person asked for the table of contents of the bid — just the table of contents.

Fifteen of the requests appear to have come from journalists from local and national media organizations. Two journalists affiliated with MuckRock, a nonprofit that files and tracks public record requests, asked for copies of the bid and documents. Nat Levy, a reporter with GeekWire, a Seattle-based tech website that has set up a temporary HQ2 of its own in Pittsburgh for February, filed a request. PublicSource, a nonprofit media organization in Pittsburgh, has filed multiple requests with the city and the county. The Tribune-Review filed requests with the city and county.

The request from Walsh could be among the only ones not from a reporter.

All, including Walsh's request, appear to have been denied. Walsh, like many others, filed an appeal.

"You shouldn't be able to deny all of it," Walsh said.

Darwin Leuba, an 18-year-old O'Hara resident, has had some success. In late December, after the Trib had sought copies of all requests filed, Leuba filed a handful of requests with the county. Leuba asked for a copy of the proposal, emails, a list of phone calls and notes from the calls and other documents. Most were denied. A request for the cover page wasn't.

"Surely, the cover page can't have all the corporate handouts on it," Leuba said. "And it would be even more absurd to say, 'No, we're not releasing the cover page because there are trade secrets on it."

Leuba, who helped Anita Prizio successfully run for Allegheny County Council and won a write-in campaign for the largely symbolic position as O'Hara auditor, posted an image of the cover page to Twitter. It contains the proposal's title, "Future. Forged. For All." and notes that it was prepared for Amazon HQ2 in October 2017. The cover page is marked confidential.

Last week, the Pennsylvania Office of Open Records ordered the city and county to release the bid and any emails between public officials concerning the proposal. The city and county could appeal the ruling. PGHQ2, a company formed to handle the bid, has urged an appeal .

The public faces of PGHQ2, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and Stefani Pashman, head of the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, have kept quiet on details and refused to voluntarily release the bid.

Walsh said the Amazon request was her first under the Right-to-Know Law. A few years ago, she started attending Monroeville City Council meetings and learned from her neighbors about the law and how to use it. Walsh first saw what Monroeville sent Amazon.

"They submitted just a piddly little letter," Walsh said.

Anyone can file an open records request under the state's Right-to-Know Law requesting nearly any public document. Some are exempt from disclosure, and the guidelines surrounding the law can change as the courts decide appeals.

More than 2,000 appeals were filed with the state's Office of Open Records in 2016, according to the office's most recent annual report. More than half of those were submitted by private citizens, the report noted.

"Strong evidence that the RTKL is working for people across the state," it stated.

Inmates filed more than a third of the appeals; journalists and companies filed about 7 percent each and government officials filed 1 percent of the appeals.

For more information on how to file an open records request under the Right to Know Law, check out this citizens' guide here .

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

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