Weston approved the Amazon Distribution Center without knowing it was Amazon
Weston discussed development terms with a broker under a pseudonym, leaving the public in the dark. They didn't know it was Amazon until a month after it was approved.
The news about Weston’s new Amazon distribution center left many caught off guard. But there might have been a good reason.
It was kept under wraps under a pseudonym.
The village only recently revealed that a major project slated for the intersection nearly highways J and 29 was an Amazon Distribution Center. Prior to that, in all village documents, the project was referred to only as Project Timberwolf.
But it turned out it wasn’t only the public that was in the dark. It turns out village leaders, including staff and the village board, also only knew the project as Project Timberwolf until fairly recently.
The village board on July 17 discussed development terms with “Project Timberwolf” in closed session. References to Project Timberwolf were made in the packet but at no point was it made clear what the project was.
Village President Mark Maloney told The Wausonian that the village had offered $1 million in tax incentives to Amazon, but Amazon ultimately turned it down in order to have more flexibility in its project.
There were earlier meetings involving Project Timberwolf as well.
Work is currently underway on the project. That means the public was at no point able to weigh in on the deal between Weston and Amazon, since the project wasn’t ever named publicly before construction began.
Open records violation?
Project Timberwolf is something this reporter hasn’t seen in nearly 20 years on the job — a village approving a project that was never publicly revealed. That included offering tax incentives. At the least, it’s a violation of transparency. Residents have a right to know what business their government is involved with. At worse, it may be a violation of open meetings laws.
According to the state’s open meetings compliance guide, the public must be informed enough about the subject matter to know if attendance is warranted:
Both in Olson and in Buswell, however, the courts reiterated the principle—first recognized in Badke155—that the information in the notice must be sufficient to alert the public to the importance of the meeting, so that they can make an informed decision whether to attend.
Nobody would have any clue what Project Timberwolf is about, or its importance. But considering the talk the news of the Amazon Distribution Center is generating, it would be hard to argue that the center wouldn’t have drawn a lot of public interest. So the public wasn’t able to make an informed decision whether to attend.
What did the village president have to say about all this?