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City leaders at odds over Amazon HQ2 bid

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CM Leslie Pool calls out Chamber, Adler

Amazon headquarters in downtown Seattle
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Austin City Council Member Leslie Pool is objecting to what she views as a lack of transparency in the city’s process for going after a much-publicized second headquarters Internet behemoth Amazon is planning to locate in one of 20 North American cities, The Austin American-Statesman reported Thursday. Austin is among the finalists announced by the company in January.

Pool, who represents the city’s District 7, said that the council, not the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce, should have submitted the bid and that the process continues to lack transparency, according to the Statesman’s Sebastian Herrera and Shonda Novak, who co-wrote Thursday’s story. The chamber bid for the project on behalf of the metro area, not just the city of Austin. Herrera and Novak reported that no details of the bid have been released, even to members of the City Council, and that the city “rejected an open records request from the American-Statesman, citing a section of the state’s open records law that allows an exemption for releasing information that could put the city at a competitive disadvantage.”

Former Travis County judge and local attorney Bill Aleshire joined Pool in her objections, stating that the council should have been given a vote on whether or not to submit the bid—or, as he put it, “whether to have the mayor invite Amazon to locate here,” Herrera and Novak reported.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler responded that pitching the city to businesses of all sizes is the within the purview of the chamber and that it has no authority to make offers to them, according to the story. He also noted that any offer the council authorizes must get public notice before a vote.

Council members Ann Kitchen and Jimmy Flannigan said that they had no objections with the way the bid was handled, according to the story, with Flannigan adding that it was how the process works and that the council can always vote against any offer it doesn’t like. Ora Houston, the council member representing District 1, issued a statement that she also had not been informed of any details of the chamber’s pursuit if the company. Six council members have not weighed in on the matter publicly.

The concerns about transparency expressed by Pool and others speaks to bigger issues a city and its residents might have with inviting HQ2 into its fold. While Amazon projects that its second headquarters will bring more than 50,000 jobs and $5 billion in investment to the city it picks, the chosen city would likely face affordability and city planning challenges already familiar to Austinites due to the retailer’s “massive footprint,” according to Curbed’s Patrick Sisson. Many in Austin wonder if a city planning process that has lagged so far behind its ongoing boom would be able to handle those challenges.

Council member: City, chamber mishandling Amazon pursuit [AAS]

Amazon’s HQ2 may increase rent in 15 cities [Curbed]