The City of Newark is weighing a request for legal fees from a plaintiff who successfully challenged its nondisclosure policy concerning its proposal to serve as a second headquarters city for Amazon.
On Tuesday Newark turned over its 201-page HQ2 application, with redactions on six of those pages, to requester Steven Wronko. The disclosure follows a suit filed by Wronko in February under the Open Public Records Act over the city’s assertion that its application to Amazon was off-limits to the public.
CJ Griffin of Pashman Stein Walder Hayden in Hackensack, New Jersey, who represents Wronko, said she was not sure of the amount of legal fees at issue in the case. OPRA grants fees and costs to prevailing parties in open records suits. The settlement follows a April 20 hearing on Newark’s motion to dismiss the case. On that day, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Beacham adjourned the case so the parties could hold settlement talks, Griffin said.
Newark’s proposal to Amazon includes information about possible development sites, technology infrastructure and potential partnerships with local universities.
It also includes information about crime, housing, entertainment and sustainability and letters of support from community leaders.
Wronko filed suit against the city in February after his request for a copy of the city’s proposal was declined by the city.
Newark had maintained that rules of the HQ2 competition required it to keep its submission confidential. It asserted in the motion for dismissal that it was entitled to the competitive advantage exception under OPRA.
Wronko maintained, however, in opposition to the motion, that Amazon’s nondisclosure agreement only applies to information that Amazon disclosed to Newark, adding that the company stated that agencies should comply with public records laws. In addition, Wronko said Newark failed to provide evidence that disclosure would put it at a disadvantage. Courts have held that an agency cannot overcome OPRA’s presumption of access by “simply making a conclusory statement that a record is exempt or harm will occur if a record is released.”
Newark is one of 20 finalists in the HQ2 competition, which is expected to bring 50,000 high-paying jobs and $5 billion in construction to the location the company selects to partner with its Seattle headquarters. Although several other New Jersey cities and towns applied, Newark’s application had the support of former Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature, which offered $7 billion in financial incentives.
The redacted portions of the Newark proposal pertain to the financial incentives, Griffin said.
Griffin said some other finalist cities put their application materials online from the outset of the process. “That builds pride and buy-in from residents. The people of Newark were completely excluded, but we are happy that they can now be part of the process,” he said in a statement.
Griffin said the application disclosed the existence of a promotional website made on behalf of Newark’s application, www.yesnewark.com.
“Evidently the city hired a PR firm to create the site and market Newark, but the fact that no one really knows about that site makes me wonder whether we got the most bang for our buck. Certainly Boston and D.C. utilized their websites much more effectively,” she said in an e-mail.
Assistant Corporation Counsel Samora Noguera, who represents Newark in the case, said the city would not comment on the case.