F. Contracts, proposals and bids.

By statute, any contract between a state agency and any entity “shall be deemed a public record.” Ark. Code Ann. § 25-18-501. It is not clear whether the legislature intended that such contracts be open to public inspection or that they simply be included within the definition of “public record” that appears in the FOIA. See Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-103(5)(A). The former seems most likely, since the definition of “public record” is broad enough to cover such contracts. If that interpretation is correct, the contracts would not be subject to any of the statutory exemptions from disclosure.

Contracts with other government bodies — such as cities, counties, and school districts — are not affected by Section 25-18-501 and could be exempt under certain circumstances. If, for example, the contracts contain detailed financial information, they may fall within the FOIA exemption for “files which, if disclosed, would give advantage to competitors or bidders.” Ark. Code Ann. § 25-19-105(b)(9)(A). The same is true with respect to proposals containing financial information, no matter what government entity is involved.

Insofar as bids are concerned, Section 25-19-105(b)(9)(A) is designed to protect the integrity of the bidding process for government contracts. Obviously, a potential bidder should not be able to obtain, prior to the deadline for submission, a copy of bids already filed. But even after the bids have been opened, disclosure of financial information may have an adverse impact if it is so detailed that other companies could use it to estimate the successful bidder’s costs and thus possibly undercut his bids on future projects. Arkansas Dep’t of Finance & Admin. v. Pharmacy Associates Inc., 333 Ark. 451, 970 S.W.2d 217 (1998). Moreover, disclosure of a bidder’s confidential financial information “would have the effect of diminishing the prospect of original and candid bids in the future.” Id. The exemption could also come into play apart from the bidding process itself. See, e.g., Ark. Op. Att’y Gen. No. 92-156 (wage rate information obtained by labor department from companies that had participated in sealed bidding might be exempt).