The fight between the Clarion-Ledger and Andrew Mattiace will take place today at 1:30 in Chancellor William Singletary's courtroom. The Chancellor sealed all records of Mattiace's application to the Mississippi Development Authority for $29 million in sales tax rebates for a proposed expansion of the Renaissance development. Buster Bailey and Jim Barksdale of co-developers on the project as well. The newspaper filed a motion to intervene and the two sides have skirmished through several motions and responses.
This correspondent and the Clarion-Ledger's Sarah Fowler filed public records requests in August seeking copies of the application for the sales tax rebate at MDA. MDA notified Mattiace as required by law. Mattiace filed a motion for a protective order on September 3, 2015 and received it on the same day. No notice of the motion was given to either the Clarion-Ledger of JJ. The order sealed all MDA records concerning Renaissance's application. MDA apparently identified 3,650 pages of records in response to the newspaper's request and would have charged $1,162 to provide the records.
The newspaper filed a motion to intervene and vacate the protective order. The Clarion-Ledger is represented by Leonard Van Slyke and Matt Allen of the Brunini law firm. Mark Garriga of Butler Snow represents Renaissance. The newspaper argued the taxpayers have a "right to know how their tax dollars are spent". Section 57-1-14(1) of the Mississippi Code states:
any records of the department of economic and community development which contain client information concerning development projects shall be exempt from the provisions of the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983 for a period of two years after receipt of the information by the department.However, the newspaper argued that Section (2) applied as it states:
Confidential client information in public records held by the department shall be exempt from...public records act during the period of review and negotiation on a project proposal and for a period of 30 days after approval, disapproval, or abandonment of the proposal not to exceed 1 year...Section 2 protects the developer's confidentiality instead of section 1. This is a big deal as there is a one year difference between the two sections. The CL argues that Renaissance's records are governed by Section 2. However, the newspaper also argues that Renaissance's two year exemption would expire this month as it submitted its application to MDA in December 2013. Thus the CL asked the Chancellor to rule that the two-year exemption expires on December 24, 2015.
Renaissance opposed the motion to intervene. It argued that it was not required to give notice to the CL and that it didn't suffer because the protective order was not a "final judgment" as it could be "replaced by another order". Renaissance argues that it provided its application and other information because it thought its confidentiality was protected by the law. It argues the law states there is indeed a one year exemption but the one year begins after MDA reviews and considers the project (Question: Is the granting of the certificate in June 2014 the end of the review?).
The main point of this response is Mattiace/Bailey/Barksdale/Gouras did not think the newspaper even had the right to argue its side in court. In other words: shut up and sit down while we take our $30 million, and you will like it, _____. Renaissance also asked the court to conduct an in camera review. The petition provides a list of the documents included in the application package:
1. Tourism application from Gouras & Associates
2. Check for $5,000
3. Ms. Tourism Rebate Proram
4. Renaissance application for rebate (7 pages)
5. Business plan
6. Marketing Plan
7. Sales tax revenue subject to tax and categorized
8. Local government support
9. Renaissance brochure
10. Belhaven University demographic study
11. Nee-Schaffer Independent Study
12. Structure/Renaissance at Colony Park, LLC
Renaissance argued these documents all contained trade secrets.
The Clarion-Ledger responded a week later and reiterated the arguments made in its motion to intervene. It did go further and state that the exemption expired on June 10, 2015 under the one-year exemption and December 24, 2015 under the two-year exemption. However, the newspaper consented to allowing the court to review the contested information in private.
Renaissance filed its own response (Nothing like dueling lawyers from big firms) but argued that if the two year exemption applied, the clock starts running "from the date of receipt of the information by the department", not when the application was received. That means every time Renaissance submits something, anything that is calls a trade secret to MDA, the clock resets to zero all over again. Call it a rolling zero. It thus argues that since MDA has "not made a final decision as to the scope of the certification and whether it applies to all phases" of the project. Thus the two-year time period has yet to begin. Mattiace even argues that Renaissance is now competing against other cities as well.
Documents filed in case:
Motion for in camera review.
CL rebuttal to Renaissance response
CL response to motion for in camera review