TEXAS VIEW: Public information gets needed victory

By Beaumont Enterprise

The ongoing battle in Texas to keep basic governmental information available to the public recently got an important victory. The attorney general’s office properly ruled that the city of Austin cannot withhold records about applicants for its city manager’s job by claiming that the information would harm the city competitively.

This means that Austin residents — and by extension residents of other Texas cities — will have more information about who applies for an important position.

They will then be able to judge for themselves if their local officials made a good choice — or hired some crony with political connections.

This victory was especially welcome because it partially closed a loophole to public information laws that has been getting larger in recent months.

That would be the infamous Boeing vs. Paxton case, the 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling that lease provisions between Boeing and the San Antonio Port Authority could be kept confidential because they could hurt the aerospace company competitively.

In reality, the San Antonio Port Authority (a taxpayer-funded facility) was using a creative legal gambit to restrict the kind of public information that had been routinely released for years with no harm.

That case was bad enough, but some Texas cities have since used that ruling an excuse to withhold information on basic taxpayer spending on entertainment or contracts to feed students.

In this case, the Austin City Council and its search firm were trying to claim that revealing information about the applicants would expose “trade secrets.” That’s nonsense, because the information in question includes basic qualifications like each applicant’s experience and education.

Ethical members of a city council or a school board don’t hide behind gimmicks like this. They realize that taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.

If there is some kind of spending that public officials want to hide from you, feel free to suspect that something sketchy is going on.