UPDATE: At 5:49 p.m. Monday, the city’s outside attorney Cal Hendrick said in a text message that “Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I anticipate releasing the docs tomorrow.”
The City of Odessa continued to withhold records Monday showing the settlement reached with an employee of former City Attorney Larry Long related to a sexual harassment case — nearly a week after the state ordered the release of the documents.
An outside attorney for the city, Cal Hendrick, has not responded to repeated inquiries from the Odessa American about the records since a March 6 finding from the state Attorney General’s office that the records are public and must be released. On Monday, the OA filed a complaint against the city and Hendrick with the AG’s office.
The total costs of the sexual harassment case remain unclear. The legal assistant filed a complaint in July 2017 accusing Long of harassing her in ways such as touching her hair against her will and staring at her, an account that was corroborated by a human resources report.
The OA requested the settlement records on Jan. 2. But Hendrick on behalf of the city fought to withhold them and argued that releasing the records “would be a violation of federal law” because of a confidentiality agreement between the city and the legal assistant as part of the resolution to the complaint she filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
But open government experts said any payment of public funds is clearly public information that the city should not be able to keep secret.
Indeed, the AG’s office agreed, finding that “a governmental body cannot, through an agreement or contract, overrule or repeal provisions of the” Texas Public Information Act. The act specifically refers to “a settlement agreement to which a governmental body is a party” as one of the categories of public information.
The Odessa City Council never disciplined Long, but ultimately allowed him to resign at the end of February in part so he could receive better retirement benefits. Long’s last day was Feb. 28.
Calls to the new Interim City Attorney Gary Landers, who took charge on March 1, went unreturned on Monday. He had referred calls to Hendrick about the settlement records last week.
Landers was hired through an outside firm that the city is paying about $25,000 a month while the City Council seeks a permanent replacement for Long. Landers has said he would review the way the city handles requests for public records with a goal of greater transparency.
As it stands, Hendrick continues to fight the release of other information related to Long, including records about another complaint filed by a senior city assistant attorney that alleged pay discrimination based on gender.
That complaint was filed about three months ago, and city leaders say the investigation remains ongoing.
By Jan. 16, the city disclosed it had paid $23,300 for Hendrick’s work related to the sexual harassment complaint.