Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Access to unredacted Amazon lease cost taxpayers $16,500

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2019 at 12:46 PM

click to enlarge This is one type of structure that could be built on the airport property by Amazon, according to city documents. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • This is one type of structure that could be built on the airport property by Amazon, according to city documents.
The city's refusal to release the name of Amazon in lease/purchase documents regarding property at the Colorado Springs Airport cost taxpayers $16,500 in attorney fees incurred by Fourth Estate News LLC.

Fourth Estate sought the records in a November 2018 request via the Colorado Open Records Act. The city refused to release the document, citing trade secret information.

In late December, Fourth Estate filed suit seeking to force the document's disclosure.

After haggling in court for several months and having a judge reject its motion to dismiss the case, the city agreed to release the documents and pay a portion of Fourth Estate's legal fees of $16,500. (Actual fees incurred by Fourth Estate totaled $26,910, due to various legal maneuvers the city made to which the news organization had to respond, according to Fourth Estate's attorney Michael Francisco. When negotiating to end the case, the amount was reduced.)

The city argued in its motion to dismiss that Fourth Estate's attorney, Francisco, submitted the CORA request, not Fourth Estate, and, therefore, Fourth Estate lacked standing to bring a lawsuit.

But the judge noted simply: "The Court finds that the Plaintiff has standing to bring the case and that a request by an attorney for Open Records is sufficient."

The city's position to withhold the document is especially curious considering the lease itself contains this wording: "Tenant [Amazon] acknowledges that, upon execution, this Lease may be subject to disclosure to third parties, upon request, under the Colorado Open Records Act (CORA)...."

The Indy sought the lease/purchase agreement last fall and got the same stiff-arm treatment as Fourth Estate News.

Once the city reached a settlement on March 18, the city provided the document to the Gazette on March 20, and the Gazette reported on March 23 that, yes, the lessee and buyer of the 88 acres is, indeed, Amazon, as local media had already reported months ago.

We asked the city about why it decided to fight the lawsuit, which ended up costing taxpayers $16,500 for attorney fees for Fourth Estate's lawsuit and received this response from the City Attorney's Office:

The Settlement Agreement speaks for itself. Had the plaintiff litigated the disclosure under the Colorado Open Records Act and prevailed, the court would have awarded attorneys fees pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-72-204(5)(b). As this matter was settled by providing a document to the plaintiffs, attorneys fees were an appropriate consideration.
click to enlarge Timothy Hoiles: "Shocking" the city forced the issue to a lawsuit and then settled. - COURTESY FOURTH ESTATE NEWS LLC
  • Courtesy Fourth Estate News LLC
  • Timothy Hoiles: "Shocking" the city forced the issue to a lawsuit and then settled.
Fourth Estate News, which is run by Timothy Hoiles, who used to be an owner of the Gazette before it went through a couple of owners en route to ownership by billionaire Philip Anschutz, issued this news release:

Fourth Estate News has obtained confirmation that Amazon is the purchaser of land at the airport the City of Colorado Springs’ unprecedented, secret land sale. This information was obtained after Fourth Estate News filed a lawsuit challenging the wrongful denial of Colorado Open Records Requests for records showing the identity of the purchaser.

“The public has the right to know who the City is doing business with, especially for the sale of public land.” Said Timothy C. Hoiles, Manager of Fourth Estate News Bureau. “It’s shocking that the City took four months, forced an unnecessary lawsuit, to fight a losing battle to keep the public in the dark. I’m pleased with the result of the lawsuit.”

After losing a motion to dismiss, the City and Fourth Estate News reached a settlement revealing the requested information in exchange for the City reimbursing $16,500 of attorneys fees used to litigate the case.

Last November City Council authorized the sale of 88 acres airport land for “project jungle” and “project rodeo.” The City denied a CORA request seeking documents reflecting the ultimate purchaser of the airport land, claiming the information was trade secret. Fourth Estate News rigorously challenged the City’s claimed basis for denying the public the information needed to know who is purchasing public land, ultimately resulting in a settlement that fully vindicates the public’s right to transparent governance. 
Here's the lease agreement that cost taxpayers so much to get a look at:

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