It turns out that a pretty good legal argument exists for keeping secret the proposals received by the Bristol Downtown Development Authority and any other "public agency" that doesn't want the responses to its requests for proposals circulating to the public.
In 2007, the state legislature added an exemption to the open records law that allows officials to keep the responses secret "provided the chief executive officer of such public agency certifies that the public interest" in disclosing them is outweighed by the need to keep them secret.
What that means is that bid responses can be kept confidential if a secretive mayor wants them to be. It means that the government can treat bid responses the same way it treats internal security audits or the home addresses of corrections officers.
It's absolutely wrong.
I don't know exactly what the arguments were made in the legislature to allow this change or who voted for it, but I'm going to explore that. We can't just sit back and allow government to lock away more and more of the information we need.
By the way, we still don't have the entire document that was submitted for the downtown site. The final appendix remains off-limits, though I do have an Freedom of Information request pending.
For those interested,
here are the allowed exemptions to the FOI, including this one:
(24) Responses to any request for proposals or bid solicitation issued by a public agency or any record or file made by a public agency in connection with the contract award process, until such contract is executed or negotiations for the award of such contract have ended, whichever occurs earlier, provided the chief executive officer of such public agency certifies that the public interest in the disclosure of such responses, record or file is outweighed by the public interest in the confidentiality of such responses, record or file.
It sailed through the legislature's committees, as part of a larger measure called Substitute Senate Bill No. 1182, AN ACT CONCERNING ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES OF THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS, AUDITING OF LARGE CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS, ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEW OF CERTAIN LAND TRANSFERS, GRANT PAYMENTS TO MUNICIPALITIES, ADVERTISING ON STATE BUILDINGS AND CERTAIN EXEMPTIONS TO THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT.:
Here are links to the bill's whole history, including roll call lists that show all of Bristol's legislators voted for it.
Maybe someone else will have some luck figuring out how come they made the change. I can't find anything at all that explains the thinking. Reading through testimony and transcripts, it seems at first glance anyway, that this thing got stuck in there and just sailed right through. I have no idea who did it or why.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org