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The Details Of Spending $750 Million In Taxpayer Funds Should Not Be A Secret

Filed under: State Politics
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When $750 million dollars of taxpayer funds are being spent to assist a private company like SolarCity, any agreements entered into with the State should be available to the public. Channel 4 News filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain a copy of the agreement between the State (the Research Foundation of the State University of New York) and SolarCity. The State responded to Channel 4’s request be providing a copy of the agreement with large portions of information blacked out.

On their web site Channel 4 states the following:

“Exactly how and when will SolarCity spend that $5 billion dollars in Buffalo? That part of the contract is blacked out.

solarcity redacted contract
Some sections of SolarCity’s contract are entirely blacked out.

And how many of those 2900 jobs will be created each year? It’s impossible to know, because the page in the contract labeled “Investment and Job Milestones” is a big black box.

According to the contract, if the state has to terminate the agreement with SolarCity, it will still have to pay some taxpayer money. That part, too, is blacked out.

There is even a section that says the state can reveal the “existence of and the total contribution amounts” only if it has SolarCity’s permission.”

One of the reasons that I did not vote to re-elect Andrew Cuomo is that his administration has a terrible record on open government. This is just another example of refusing to release information that the news media and the public should not stand for. 

The reason provided by the State to redact information is that the contract contains trade secrets and other key commercial terms that if disclosed would likely cause substantial competitive injury. An additional reason is that the Securities and Exchange Commission prevents disclosure of some information at this time but that soon additional information will be able to be disclosed.

Even Robert Freeman the Executive Director of the New York State Committee on Open Government a highly respected authority on the Freedom of Information Law found found the amount of information redacted troubling. As reported by Channel 4 Freeman stated:

 “I don’t know why items involving programs contributions either by the Foundation or by SolarCity should be redacted. I don’t know why investment milestones should be redacted. And I question how or why disclosure of those kinds of items in their entirety in many instances would cause injury either to the Foundation or to SolarCity,”

This is not the first time a government official has made the trade secret argument as a reason for not releasing information to the public. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz initially refused to release the hourly rate being paid by the County to a law firm assisting with lease negotiations for the Buffalo Bills on the basis that such information was a trade secret. After Freeman stated that refusing to release the hourly rate was “unjustifiable” and the Buffalo News filed an appeal, the hourly rate was released to the public.

Hopefully news media pressure and public outrage will result in the SolarCity contract details being released to the public.

  • jerkwagon420

    You know it’s a lost cause when there’s a reference to Rodney Dangerfield, errrrr, I mean Robert Freeman, who has zero clout but is always called on to point out how the fuckers have once again got away with it. I thought Freeman was on exclusive retainer for a spell when James Williams was running Buffalo Schools.

  • UncleBluck

    I think it might be time to begin working on a recall for Andrew but the republicans will need to find an actual candidate to run this time…..

  • HapKlein

    I like the idea of open covenants openly arrived at but In a development the size and complexity of Solar City would any such information be possible at this early stage of the development?

    My background is mostly in Construction and I have reviewed plans and checked conformity with them after construction in hundreds of projects.

    I now work with many environmental groups and silently moan when many specific details of projects are demanded early in design. I think of the incredible number of decisions and changes that occur as challenges and market conditions warrant modifications.

    But the knowledge and qualifications of any reviewers should be capable of grasping the project in whole and in part also.

    Many economic and engineering details can be normal to projects that appear unusual or unnecessary to people unfamiliar with construction. When Solar City’s footprint was expanded to include possible and probable infrastucture for associated industries I cheered the prospect. But in many existing plans the additions might have appeared unnecessary add on.

    I have not seen a single construction project in fifty years that did not require pre- and post- construction of the original plans.

    Don’t rush the process, you will get multiple garbled versions.

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