The giant paint company Sherwin-Williams has had its headquarters and its main research facilities in the city of Cleveland since its founding in 1866 and has often boasted about how proud it is to be there and what a good corporate citizen it is, donating to the arts and charities and the like.
But like all major corporations, it has decided to shakedown the city it has long called home and which is under financial stress in the usual way, by threatening to move its headquarters elsewhere unless it gets a good deal in the form of tax and other incentives. And in a familiar move, the city and the corporation are not divulging the details of the deal being worked out.
The administrations of Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson will not rule out trying to keep secret the details related to negotiating incentives aimed at keeping Sherwin-Williams’ headquarters in the county.
Eliza Wing, chief communications officer for Budish, told cleveland.com that the administration is committed to making public “as much work product as we can,” but declined to guarantee a full disclosure.
The Jackson administration also declined to commit to publicly sharing all details related to its negotiations with the Cleveland-based paint manufacturer, which is shopping for a site to build a new headquarters.
Cleveland.com asked for pledges of transparency this week after learning that both administrations had retained law firms to assist them in negotiations with Sherwin-Williams and have signed non-disclosure agreements.
The hiring of law firms is sometimes used by governments and other public institutions in an attempt to keep negotiations secret from voters and taxpayers by claiming all workpapers and correspondence are protected by attorney-client privilege.
While it may be acceptable to keep the negotiations confidential, the question is whether the details of any agreement will be available for public comment before it is voted on by the City Council.
Cleveland was one of the cities that failed in its bid to attract Amazon but even after the deal fell through, the city refused to reveal what it had offered but was forced to reveal them after a successful lawsuit was filed. What it had offered Amazon was huge.
Those documents revealed that the city, county and state had offered unprecedented financial incentives worth up to $3.5 billion that included the city and county offering to give Amazon much of the new income and property taxes that would have been generated by the project.
It was this kind of deal that Amazon’s chosen site in Queens, New York was forced to abandon after public outcry.