Schenectady Daily Gazette Editorial: Ban non-disclosure agreements from economic development projects

Originally published in Schenectady Daily Gazette

“Sorry, people. We can’t tell you the details of the big economic development contract we just agreed to with some big company, even thought it might cost you millions of dollars of your tax money.

“Why? Well, we all signed an agreement not to disclose information. So that means we don’t have to tell you anything. Because, you know, we agreed not to.”

That sounds suspiciously like the business and the government are colluding to hide something that the public has a right to know about.

Those nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) on competitive bids might contain public information such as breaks on property and sales taxes, details about the project itself that could affect the community and surrounding properties, and other such vital information.

So why should companies be able to sign agreements not to disclose information to hide public information? They shouldn’t.

That’s why it’s so important that state lawmakers pass legislation to prohibit such NDAs in economic development projects.

A bill sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Sen. Michael Gianaris of Queens and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages of Long Island (A9092/S1196) would prohibit confidentiality and non-disclosure provisions from inclusion in contracts pertaining to economic development entered into by government agencies and authorities.

There’s just too much information they could keep secret with these blanket non-disclosure deals to keep allowing them.

The state Freedom of Information Law already protects businesses with exemptions from disclosure in certain cases. That includes trade secrets and other business-related information that “if disclosed would cause substantial injury to the competitive position of the subject enterprise.”

We’ve got no problem with that provision.

When denying access to specific information about a deal, the government entity involved can cite Section 87, subsection 2d of the Public Officers Law as its justification for redacting a particular bit of information.

They don’t need an NDA.

Political leaders in other states, including Florida, Illinois and Michigan, have introduced similar legislation. This is simply common-sense, open government legislation that needs to become a law.

The Senate passed the bill earlier this year. The Assembly needs to take it up next time they can, and the governor needs to sign it.