Apple deal less than transparent
IN APPLE DEAL, GOVERNMENT REPS DON’T GET TO SIGN AWAY “PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO KNOW”
Goldwater Institute will pursue records requests over Apple deal to the fullest extent
Media reports this week indicate that public officials and staff from the Arizona Commerce Authority, the City of Mesa, and Maricopa County have signed confidentiality agreements to hide the content of their meetings with Apple Corporation as they worked to attract the tech giant to open operations in the area. According to the Goldwater Institute, attempts by public officials to hide information about how taxpayer dollars are being spent raises serious legal questions, especially in light of Arizona’s broad public records laws requiring open and transparent government.
“It’s troubling that any government employee would think it was in his purview to sign away the public’s right to know,” said Jon Riches, a staff attorney at the Goldwater Institute. “The law is clear – government cannot hide the decisions it is making on behalf of the public.”
Unfortunately, the cavalier attitude emerging toward public records law may echo sentiments at other levels of governance. In a legislative hearing earlier this year, one state representative bemoaned that transparency and open meeting laws had severely undermined her district’s ability to seal “economic development” deals, because businesses being courted did not want to have to disclose information about their dealings in exchange for taxpayer-funded incentives. In another well-known instance of closed-door deal making, the City of Glendale refused to release details of its incentive deal with the Phoenix Coyotes until required to do so by a court order.
While the law allows for secret negotiations, it is clear the public has a legal right to know the details of any agreements before the deals are approved. In the case of the Apple deal, public officials are taking secrecy to new levels, not just being evasive about the terms and incentives of the deal, but also the terms of the confidentiality agreements they’ve signed in their public capacities.
The Goldwater Institute has filed public records requests of its own to gain information from the Arizona Commerce Authority, the City of Mesa, and Maricopa County, about the details surrounding the Apple deal. While none of the public bodies have yet responded to the requests, the Goldwater Institute intends to pursue the records requests to the fullest extent–including through the courts, if necessary.
“This is not a grey area,” said Riches. “Government is employed to serve the public, and the public shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to find out how their employees are allocating the dollars.”