Agua SUD alleges contract with lobbying firm is void

The Agua Special Utility District is arguing its contract with a lobbying group is void and suing them to recoup money it paid to them.

In their lawsuit, filed last month, Agua SUD officials argue the contract with Strategic Public Affairs, a lobbying and communications company, is illegal because it was signed without approval from the board of directors.

The company, with offices in Houston, Austin and Washington D.C., entered into an agreement with then-Executive Director Oscar Cancino in May 2017, according to the complaint.

The agreement was not presented to the Agua board of directors for approval and was supposedly only discovered during an internal audit in January 2018, after Cancino’s resignation in September 2017.

Records from the Texas Ethics Commission show that the vice president of Strategic Public Affairs, Ricardo Lopez-Guerra, registered as a prospective lobbyist for Agua SUD from May 2017 to December 2017.

Cancino could not be reached for comment.

“AGUA seeks judgment that the contract between the District and Strategic Public Affairs is void and unenforceable on grounds that it is illegal and against the public policy of the State of Texas because the Executive Director, Oscar Cancino, acted without authority and contrary to express statutes,” the complaint states. “Entering into the contract deprived the public of the full effect of their votes for AGUA Board members.”

President of Stretegic Public Affairs Andrew Biar said he couldn’t speak too much on the situation given it is a lawsuit. However he said he understood that Agua SUD was suing a lot of people.

“Needless to say it’s interesting to see that a taxing entity, with many of the board members under investigation by the Texas Rangers, (is) choosing to use taxpayer money on an ongoing basis to sue people,” Biar said.

Agua SUD interim General Manager Eddie Saenz and Board President Roger Hernandez did not immediately return requests for comment.