• January 27, 2020

TEXAS VIEW: Data on concert shows need for transparency - Odessa American: Texas Opinion

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TEXAS VIEW: Data on concert shows need for transparency

THE POINT: The public has a right to know how its money is being spent.

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Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2020 2:30 am

After years of delays and court challenges, the city of McAllen on Tuesday finally released information on how much of taxpayers’ money it paid singer Enrique Iglesias to appear at the 2015 holiday parade. If anything, the information strengthens the argument for transparency.

With few exceptions, all information about government expenses must be public, and the reason is obvious: When the money is taken by force from taxpayers, they have a right to know how it’s being used.

The city based its refusal to provide the information on a 2015 state Supreme Court ruling that severely broadened the kind of information that could be exempted from the Texas Public Information Act in the name of protecting market secrets.

The information released last week shows that the city paid Iglesias $485,000 to sing at the holiday celebration, in addition to expenses that included chartering a jet to bring him here from Guadalajara, a block of 24 hotel rooms for two nights, food, drinks and other items.

Even before the latest information was released, officials had disclosed that the city had lost some $765,000 on the entire 2015 parade and festival.

But even after that information was known, even after lawmakers said the court ruling misread the law’s intent, even after editorialists, officials and open government advocates all across the state and beyond condemned the city for its stance, officials continued to withhold the information, burning even more of taxpayers’ money fighting legal challenges over the secrecy.

Tuesday’s release comes after a new state law, written specifically to deal with this issue, went into effect.

Most likely, the additional expense of defending the decision, coupled with the widespread ridicule and condemnation it drew for McAllen, has proved more damaging than initial disclosure would have been.

Any event should attract enough people so that the price of any tickets, if it isn’t a free event, plus concessions are enough to offset the cost. We doubt the city and its contracted vendors even had a half-million dollars in concessions to sell.

Moreover, holding outdoor concerts are risky, especially in December when heavy weather or a cold snap can cut attendance drastically.

City officials say they’ve been chastened by the decision; since the 2015 debacle they no longer try to arrange such events themselves, and now work with professional promoters.

Smart move; those promoters know what they’re doing — precisely because they know how much entertainers are getting for their appearances, and how much revenue their appearances can generate.

That is exactly why public disclosure is so important — while some argue that secrecy protects trade and market secrets, it actually deprives decision makers of the information they need to make the best decisions.

It’s worth repeating: Public officials are dealing with the public’s money, and the public has a right to know how its money is being spent.

It should not have taken an act of the legislature to convince McAllen officials of that fact.

Odessa, TX

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