The Cincinnati Bengals negotiated a new stadium lease with Hamilton County late last year, and given that the previous stadium lease famously included a guarantee that the public would buy the team a “holographic replay system” (as soon as such a thing is invented), there’s understandably been interest in exactly what was agreed to and how the final result was arrived at. So the Cincinnati Enquirer filed a public-records request with the county to find out, among other things, the county’s projected cost to buy land for a new Bengals practice facility and details of a new music venue that Bengals owner Mike Brown agreed to allow to be built next to the stadium in exchange for the new practice facility.
What resulted was perhaps the greatest troll in the history of government bureaucrat dick moves:
That’s right: Hamilton County responded with 275 pages that had been completely blacked out. As the Enquirer tells it:
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…
Did anyone raise a question about the new lease agreement? It’s impossible to know. Did anyone suggest better ways to invest taxpayer dollars? Can’t say.
The county’s excuse for this mass redaction is that every word and punctuation mark on the 275 pages is subject to attorney-client privilege, but as Deadspin notes, “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.”
To be clear, the new lease itself has been made public, but with all those side agreements in place, it would be instructive to know what the county and team discussed, and how the final deal was arrived at. And that’s kind of the whole point of public records laws: to guarantee the media and the public a look at what their elected officials are up to, so they can hold them accountable. And, I suppose, it did show us one thing that Hamilton County officials are up to: clicking on the redaction tool over and over and over again. I sincerely hope that the Enquirer’s next public records request is for how much staff time was spent on ensuring that no incriminating commas were revealed to the public — if only to see if the county cc’ed its attorneys on that line item, too.