2 bidders file to keep parts of proposals secret

Published 11:52 pm Monday, May 14, 2018

NATCHEZ — At least two companies that submitted proposals to provide waste collection services for the City of Natchez have filed petitions with the Adams County Chancery Court, seeking to keep “proprietary” information in their proposals sealed from the public.

Waste Pro of Mississippi Inc. filed a petition on May 7 for a protective order against the City of Natchez and The Natchez Democrat, and Metro Services Group Inc. filed a petition against the City of Natchez on May 10.

Both filings came within a 21-day timeframe stipulated in state law in which companies can petition to keep proprietary business information contained in public bidding processes from being made public.

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Waste Pro’s petition states it seeks exemption from disclosure of “certain confidential and proprietary information contained in its April 6, 2018, bid submitted to the City of Natchez.”

Waste Pro’s petition states, “The public disclosure of Waste Pro’s confidential commercial and financial information contained in the Waste Pro Bid would harm Waste Pro, as such information could be used by Waste Pro’s competitors to unfairly compete with Waste Pro.”

Metro’s petition similarly states it seeks a protective order that would prohibit the release of financial information in the bid that “contains certain financial information and other proprietary information regarding Petitioner’s business that should not be distributed, as such information could be utilized by its competitors.”

Waste Pro’s petition states it was filed in response to a public records request filed by The Natchez Democrat after the City of Natchez refused to make details public of bids submitted for the city’s waste collection contract during the board’s April 13 meeting.

It notes the City of Natchez declined to provide any details of the bids submitted at its April 13 meeting and “The Natchez Democrat submitted a public records request for copies of all bids received by the city . . .”

Metro’s petition states the city notified the company it “will release information associated with such bid in response to a public record request.”

Waste Pro’s petition further states, “It is Waste Pro’s understanding that the City of Natchez has sought an ethics opinion from the Mississippi Ethics Commission as to whether it is required to publicly disclose the details of the bids while the bidding process is ongoing.”

Mississippi Press Association attorney Leonard Van Slyke said the petitions are procedural as outlined in Mississippi Code Annotated 25-61-9 (2018).

“If a third party requests the information (contained in a bid) that could contain financial or proprietary information or trade secrets, the public body is supposed to contact the proposal company,” Van Slyke said, adding that once the bidding company has been notified, it has 21 days to seek a protective order exempting it from disclosing the proprietary information.

The law also states if any of the information in the proposal is found to be exempt from disclosure then it should be separated from the nonexempt material when it is made available for public examination or copying, or both.

Waste Pro’s petition was filed May 7 and Metro’s was filed May 10, both of which are within the 21-day limit of being notified by the City of Natchez on April 18 of The Natchez Democrat’s public records request on the proposals.

After the contract was awarded last week to Arrow Disposal Services Inc., the City of Natchez made all of the proposals public on Friday.

Some financial portions of Waste Pro’s and Metro’s as well as other companies’ proposals were not included in materials made available to the public.