There' s a reason why elected officials go into private closed session to discuss real estate deals. For one reason, real estate prices could be played with if neighbors knew a city or county was negotiating to buy a particular package. That makes sense. But suppose you found out after the fact that also what was discussed was giving a company who was buying property $10 million in tax breaks and you, citizen, didn't know and were given no opportunity to speak up about whether you agreed with this, BEFORE the government entity voted yes?
The Washington Post has an article about what seems like a sleazy deal. Google actually went by a fake LLC, Sharka and required NDA's from the city.
That day was the first time officials had spoken publicly about an enigmatic developer’s plans to build a sprawling data center. The developer, which incorporated with the state four months earlier, went by the name Sharka LLC. City officials declined at the time to say who was behind Sharka.
The mystery company was Google — a fact the city revealed two months later, after the project was formally approved. Larry Barnett, president of Midlothian Economic Development, one of the agencies that negotiated the data center deal, said he knew at the time the tech giant was the one seeking a decade of tax giveaways for the project, but he was prohibited from disclosing it because the company had demanded secrecy.
You see this? To prevent Midlothian residents (Ellis County) from knowing what Google was planning to do, Google used the name Sharka LLC (kind of fitting, eh, with the SHARK in the name?). And City of Midlothian officials KNEW THAT... but nobody else did.
Remember Travis Smith, who used to be editor of the Glen Rose Reporter before moving on to the Waxachie Daily Light? (Ellis County) He's quoted in the WaPost article
“I’m confident that had the community known this project was under the direction of Google, people would have spoken out, but we were never given the chance to speak,” said Travis Smith, managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, the local paper. “We didn’t know that it was Google until after it passed.”
Now here's another sleazy part. After this $10 million dollar deal in tax breaks passed, Sharka LLC went in and changed its paperwork to the address of Google in Mountain View, CA.
Maybe you would agree with a corporation bringing jobs to your area and also instead of bringing in additional tax revenue for your roads and schools, giving huge corporate welfare tax breaks. BUT WOULDN"T YOU WANT THE PROCESS TO BE TRANSPARENT? SO YOU COULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO WEIGH IN?
It's simply not good enough to be able to do a Texas Public Information Act request after the fact. And not enough to vote out the sleazy elected officials who went along with this deal by hiding it from the public. Seems like this should be, if it is not, a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, that there should have been a hearing on this before Midlothian officials voted yes. And not because of real estate, necesssarily, heck, the Somervell County Commissioners Court regularly goes into closed session and then comes out and votes yes on land deals. But because in this case there were other factors at play, including Midlothian reserving water supply capacity from their water treatment plant, the PUBLIC should have been able to know. If an NDA supposedly prevented elected city officials from letting the people who elected them know all the surrounding facts of this land deal, then responsible officials would not have signed one. Have to wonder, based upon transparency at the TOMA level, whether any entity will challenge the legality of this type of secret meeting.
I certainly hope Somervell County and City of Glen Rose officials would not enter into a sleazy deal like this.