It is not exaggeration to say that the Cincinnati Bengals’ revised stadium lease with Hamilton County, agreed in November 2018, is still largely secret. Among the many figures that weren’t released at the time the agreement was announced was how much the county—and thus, taxpayers—will be spending to buy land near the stadium to be used for parking and a new indoor practice facility.
It is also not exaggeration to say that Cincinnati has the worst stadium deal in America. As of 2016, taxpayers had spent $920 million to build and operate Paul Brown Stadium, which opened in 2000. That figure is expected to climb well above $1 billion by the conclusion of the lease.
And so it would not be anywhere near exaggeration to say that it’s very important for citizens to know what’s in this new lease, and how much they’re paying, and that there’s absolutely no reason to trust their county commissioners’ words on the deal without seeing for themselves.
The Cincinnati Enquirer attempted to do just that, filing a public records request, for, well, public records. The paper asked for all documents related to the lease negotiations. They received a whole lot of magic marker.
Six months after the request was filed, county officials sent back 275 pages that had been almost completely blacked out. Every word, other than the date, subject line and names of email recipients, was gone. No noun or verb remained. No punctuation mark survived.
Several pages appeared to contain bullet-point presentations or slide shows, but they, too, were entirely redacted.
Even page numbers on some of the documents had been redacted.
Here, you can see it for yourself! Government transparency at work.
Hamilton County claimed to the Enquirer that everything had to be redacted because it falls under attorney-client privilege. But as the paper points out, elected officials aren’t allowed to shield their discussions from public view just by copying their attorneys on every single communication, which is what appears to have happened here.
The county’s lawyer in the negotiations insisted to the Enquirer that making public these public documents would “place the county and its taxpayers at a competitive disadvantage.”