Non-disclosure agreements come under fire

The Kitsap County commissioners sign nondisclosure agreements to protect the interests of businesses planning to relocate to Kitsap County, which allows them to explore the situation away from public scrutiny. While commonplace and legal, the practice has come under criticism in light of recent efforts to attract NASCAR track to the community.

“Under the disclosure laws, anything that is put in writing and is shared with a commissioner becomes public record,” said Indianola resident Charlie Burrow, who chairs Kitsap Citizens for Responsible Planning.

Burrow is troubled by a proposal prepared by the Kitsap Economic Development Commission (KEDC) with the hope of luring the International Speedway Corp. to Kitsap County.

While prepared and circulated privately, it was accompanied by a cover letter signed by Central Kitsap Commissioner Patty Lent. This, according to Burrow, made the letter’s contents public record.

Burrow’s efforts to obtain an official copy of the report through Kitsap County have been so far unsuccessful.

KEDC Executive Director David Porter disagrees with Burrow, saying the practice of public officials signing such agreements is “common in my business.”

Porter, whose job is to lure appropriate new businesses to the county, said all companies that explore new locations need to control the information flow. A company wants to make sure its employees don’t hear of the proposed move prematurely, and they don’t want to tip off the competition.

Also, the company may want to keep knowledge of the move away from the community to avoid artificially inflating land prices.

Porter plays by different rules than a government agency.

“The public doesn’t have the right to know what a private business is doing,” Porter said.

KEDC has a 25-member board, with one seat always occupied by a county commissioner (currently Lent fills the role).

Porter said each commissioner signs a blanket nondisclosure agreement that remains in effect for all discussions (a new agreement is not required for each new visitor, although some might request the extra “protection”).

“NASCAR is a big client,” Porter said. “And any big client will always want confidentiality.”

Even if the secret is kept up to a point, the company must eventually go public with a solid project proposal and file all the necessary construction permits.

At this point the public becomes involved and all secrecy is a thing of the past.

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