San Antonio Express-News: Form special committee on public records

Editorial Board
San Antonio Express-News
Originally published Oct. 22, 2017

There are several glaring and troubling loopholes in Texas’ public records law.

The most troubling example comes courtesy of a 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling that allows businesses contracting with public entities to keep those contracts and other key details secret. For years, such information was public record, the idea being the public should know how its money is being spent.

But thanks to that 2015 ruling, all kinds of formerly routine information has been kept secret under the guise that its release would place private companies at “competitive disadvantages.”

For example, city officials in McAllen have refused to disclose how much the city paid for singer Enrique Iglesias to perform in a holiday festival, citing “competitive disadvantage” when it books another singer.

The nonprofit Centro San Antonio, and the city of San Antonio, refused to release a site study for a downtown baseball stadium. Centro, which provided the study to the city, wanted to play a role in placing any stadium downtown. Releasing the study would put it at a “competitive disadvantage,” the nonprofit argued.
The University of Texas System has refused to release details about the agreement between MD Anderson Cancer Center and UT Health San Antonio.

These aren’t proprietary secrets. These are government contracts.

The Legislature has mostly failed to act. House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick should create the joint interim committee — that legislation allows to be created — to study open records law in Texas. The committee should hold multiple hearings across the state. And it should offer legislative recommendations to improve access to public information and strengthen the Texas Public Information Act. Access to public information is vital to an informed citizenry and democracy.