Two Oklahoma City Council members challenged a $1.7 million Amazon incentive deal as being unnecessary for Amazon to build a distribution center in the metro. In the end, it passed.
The public was not able to know about the proposal until late on a Friday afternoon only four days before it was taken up in the Economic Development Trust meeting Tuesday, May 15 and 11 days before Tuesday’s Council meeting.
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid had the sharpest criticism for the deal characterizing it as “one of the worst to come before us,” and “the Stockholm Syndrome of economic development.”
And, Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner said flatly “I don’t think businesses create jobs because of the incentives.”
See our story about the deal here:
Greiner, typically quiet on the Council, was the first to speak out against the Amazon incentive after Economic Development Program Manager Brent Bryant’s presentation of the details of the deal.
“Generally, when we talk about these job incentives I don’t like any of them,” he said.
Greiner said he had voted against bond incentives on the Council and in the voting booth because “I don’t think businesses create jobs because of the incentives.”
“I think they create jobs because they need more workers to produce more products and to provide more services.”
“I think this particular incentive package is one of the worst to come before us,” said Shadid.
“It is basically, to me, the Stockholm Syndrome of economic development where we pay eight times our average allocation per job that is $32,000 when you include the infrastructure.”
Shadid pointed to the decades of Amazon’s non-payment of sales taxes as they lured increasingly more business from local retailers.
“We pay our tormentors,” he said of the regular procession of incentive deals coming from negotiations.
Negotiations over incentives start with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, then move to the Economic Development Trust by way of Cathy O’Connor, president of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, a non-governmental organization that resources the Trust.
As Greiner had argued, Shadid argued that Amazon has a nation-wide plan to place local distribution centers in major cities with high-income populations near airports in order to compete with local retailers with same-day or next-day deliveries.
He said that Amazon was going to establish centers in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Dallas whether the incentive was there or not because it is a part of their overall business plan.
Shadid was even more passionate about finding that Bryant had signed a nondisclosure agreement with Amazon that even prohibited him from disclosing the deal to Council members.
“That’s a policy decision, right?” said Shadid leaning forward in his chair.
“That’s the council allowing a city employee to sign a non-disclosure agreement that doesn’t allow him to talk to anyone including city council members about it until four days before the vote.”
He proposed that the Council establish new policies about city employees signing NDAs and that the city set a 30-day waiting period for public discussion of such measures.
When the vote was taken, Greiner and Shadid voted against the measure. Mayor David Holt and the four other Council members present voted for it. Ward 7 was not represented because of John Pettis’ resignation. Ward 8 Councilman Mark Stonecipher was not present.