EDINBURG — Thanks to a court ruling and in spite of the Texas Public Information Act, Texas allows for taxpayer-funded entities, such as the Agua Special Utility District and the city of McAllen, to keep records secret if their release would put the government or businesses at a competitive disadvantage.
Agua SUD has used this to keep information private to protect the employment of the district’s board members — though they eventually released this information after legal action began — and McAllen refused to release a contract between the city and singer Enrique Iglesias during its annual holiday parade in 2015 — this information is still sealed. Boeing Co. v. Paxton, a 2015 Texas Supreme Court case, allows for this.
McAllen and Agua SUD are two of 2,600 entities that have requested to keep information private when seeking opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The attorney general has ruled in most of those cases that the information could remain private.
State Rep. Terry Canales drafted and introduced a bill for the 2017 State Legislature to amend the Texas Public Information Act so entities could no longer exploit the loophole in the law to keep taxpayer-funded contracts, especially like the one between McAllen and Iglesias, private.
The bill never got to a House vote, but Canales managed to get one transparency bill passed and signed by the governor: House Bill 214. Before the bill, the state’s supreme court and court of criminal appeals proceedings were not recorded. Now, the two courts are required to record the proceedings.
On Thursday, the Texas Press Association recognized Canales for his efforts. Executive Vice President Donnis Baggett traveled to Edinburg to present Canales with the organization’s Transparency Champion award on Thursday.
Baggett commended Canales’ transparency-related efforts during the 2017 legislature, calling him a “warrior.” Canales said he deeply appreciated receiving the award, but wasn’t totally happy about it.
“The government exists for the people, by the people,” Canales said, citing the Texas government’s lack of transparency and accountability. “But the very idea that we have to single out a legislator for an award to fight for transparency shows how pervasive the problem is. Transparency should be inherent. We shouldn’t have to give this award.”