NATIONAL HARBOR – County Executive Rushern Baker III signed an agreement Tuesday with MGM Resorts International requiring county residents make up at least half of the workforce at MGM’s proposed $925 million casino within five years of opening, but some say the deal offers little in the way of transparency. According to the 34-page community […]
NATIONAL HARBOR – County Executive Rushern Baker III signed an agreement Tuesday with MGM Resorts International requiring county residents make up at least half of the workforce at MGM’s proposed $925 million casino within five years of opening, but some say the deal offers little in the way of transparency.
According to the 34-page community benefits agreement, MGM must hire a five-person oversight committee to evaluate MGM’s performance and compile quarterly compliance reports, but the deal also requires information be kept confidential unless all both the county and MGM provide written consent to disclose information. The county is also required, according to the agreement, to inform MGM of any requests under the Maryland Public Information Act and seek the company’s approval.
“What it’s saying is that if the committee receives an information request, MGM can intervene,” said Brad Frome, Baker’s deputy chief of staff.
Provision 6.6 of the agreement reads:
“The County shall consult with, and seek the approval of, MGM prior to disclosing any information requested by any such MPIA request. In the event that MGM does not so approve, then provided that MGM promptly (i.e. within any applicable time frame required by the MPIA) petitions a court of proper jurisdiction to determine if such disclosure is required by the MPIA and provides the County of such petition, the County shall withhold disclosure during the pendency of such court’s determination.”
Requiring companies to disclose the review process puts companies at competitive disadvantage, Frome said.
“Information about the buildings and about bids, or about how much the company pays its employees are not meant to be public,” Frome said. “By tradition, this is information that is not disclosed to the public.”
The deal signed by Baker and MGM requires the company to put forth its “best efforts” to ensure at least 50 percent of casino employees are county residents after five years of operation and requires the company reach out to county residents and local businesses to attract local and minority employees.
Frome said he could not detail what proprietary information might be compromised in a release of the oversight committee’s decision-making process.
“What we call this type of thing is a reverse-[Freedom of Information Act],” said Emily Grannis, a Jack Nelson Legal Fellow for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “The set-up here is particularly troubling because you’re talking about the county being obligated to go through MGM before releasing information…It gets messier than it needs to be.”
A summary of the oversight committee’s findings will be drafted biannually and will be available to the public, said County Council Chairman Mel Franklin, who will review the document.
But the person creating the report must consult with MGM prior to releasing the information.
“Any statements, releases or other materials disclosed to the public relating to this Agreement or MGM’s compliance with its obligations shall require mutual agreement of the Parties,” according to the agreement.
The language throughout the agreement gives MGM excessive rights, Grannis said.
““In our view, it’s totally unnecessary,” Grannis said. “It would be more appropriate for the company to flag information that may be exempt under information laws before turning it over to the government. Then the government can redact that flagged information after receiving an MPIA. In our view, that’s the better way to go about it.”
Franklin said the details of the agreement were added to protect proprietary information and MGM’s trade secrets.
“This is a way for MGM to ensure its proprietary information is not available to competitors,” Franklin said.
Like Frome, Franklin said he could not provide examples of proprietary information that would be at stake in reviewing the company’s compliance to the terms of the agreement.
If MGM does not comply with the agreement, the county may seek damages of up to $300,000. The damages would be used toward the Community Foundation to build local business capacity, according to the agreement.
If information requests must go through MGM and can be delayed through court procedures, Grannis said, there will be less transparency to the public about the company’s hiring practices and philanthropic promises.
“We’re talking about a publically-funded project that is being reviewed to make sure it complies to the protocol,” Grannis said. “This is exactly the type of document that public record laws were meant to reach.”
The Prince George’s County Council, which has the power to review the agreement prior to the opening of the MGM National Harbor facility through Council Bill-7-2014, will review the agreement, Franklin said.
“We’re still reviewing the document to gain an understanding,” Franklin said. “I can’t say for certain, but it is unlikely that the language of the agreement will be changed.”
The council already provided input while the agreement was being drafted, he said.
MGM Casino is slated to open in 2016.