AG Paxton, city attorney spar over access to Chick-fil-A concession records

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist, Adrian Garcia - Digital Journalist
Alex Wong/Getty Images

SAN ANTONIO - Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken his demand for records relating to the San Antonio City Council's March vote to exclude Chick-fil-A from an airport concessions contract a step further. 

On Monday, Paxton filed a petition in Travis County District Court to get San Antonio to hand over records for his office's investigation into the controversial 6-4 vote.

Paxton said the city has declined to release the records he's requested because it claims it is exempt from disclosing them as it anticipates being sued. 

READ THE PETITION HERE

"We’ve simply opened an investigation using the Public Information Act," Paxton said in a statement Monday. "If a mere investigation is enough to excuse the City of San Antonio from its obligation to be transparent with the people of Texas, then the Public Information Act is a dead letter. The city’s extreme position only highlights its fear about allowing any sunshine on the religious bigotry that animated its decision.”

A state agency typically must seek a decision from the attorney general's office if it seeks to withhold records from a requestor.

ALSO: City Council's vote to exclude Chick-Fil-A at San Antonio's airport draws applause, criticism

City Attorney Andy Segovia said the city has turned over more than 250 pages of documents for review by the Open Records Division of the attorney general's office. He said that, should Paxton's office require the city to turn the documents over, the city will comply.

“Instead of allowing the routine process (to) take its course, the AG decided to sue and not wait for a decision from his own department,” Segovia wrote in a statement to KSAT. “The Attorney General notified the press before any communication with the City, or even before the City was served with the suit.”

A joint investigation conducted by ABC 13 in Houston and the Houston Chronicle found that in 2018, the attorney general's office seldom required the full release of records to a requestor. The agency required the full release of records in only 5.4% of its decisions.

Under Paxton, record requests have been outright denied by the attorney general's office at an increasing rate compared with the previous administration, which was helmed by now-Gov. Greg Abbott. 

A statement from the city read, "State law sets the parameters of the Attorney General’s Office ability to investigate and usually the procedural process for investigation, review and enforcement. The State Attorney General’s office asks for documents under the specific legislative authority.

"The State Attorney General’s office has not specified the legislative authority they are relying on to investigate the airport contract. Furthermore, it is clear from the strident comments in his press release that any 'investigation' would be a pretense to justify his own conclusions."

RELATED: FAA enters San Antonio Airport Chick-fil-A fight, opens investigation 

Paxton made clear in a statement Monday that his office believes the City Council's decision to exclude the fast-food chain from the San Antonio International Airport's concession contract was rooted in discrimination.

"Members of the City Council who spearheaded the decision to exclude Chick-fil-A did not attempt to hide their discriminatory motives," Paxton said. "One branded the company out of line with 'our core values as a city.' Yet another council member denounced Chick-fil-A as a 'symbol of hate.'"

Paxton's petition comes after his office sent a letter to Mayor Ron Nirenberg and the City Council on March 28 notifying the two parties of his agency's investigation of the vote.

CONTINUING COVERAGE: Councilman regretful about decision to exclude Chick-fil-A from airport 

The Federal Aviation Administration has also launched an investigation into the City Council's decision to exclude Chick-fil-A from a concession contract.

"The Department of Transportation has received complaints alleging discrimination by two airport operators against a private company due to the expression of the owner’s religious beliefs," FAA officials said in a statement, referencing both the San Antonio and Buffalo Niagara international airports.

In its statement, the FAA said it had notified the airport about the investigation, saying, "Federal requirements prohibit airport operators from excluding persons on the basis of religious creed from participating in airport activities that receive or benefit from FAA grant funding."

RELATED: Ted Cruz blasts SA City Council over Chick-fil-A vote

"We received a letter from the FAA advising us they were opening an investigation into the airport concessions contract. We will need time to review the letter and determine our course of action," Segovia wrote last week in a statement sent to KSAT.

In March, Chick-fil-A, the popular faith-influenced chicken chain restaurant, sent KSAT.com a statement about the decision of excluding them from the airport.

"This is the first we’ve heard of this. It’s disappointing. We would have liked to have had a dialogue with the city council before this decision was made. We agree with Councilmember Treviño that everyone is and should feel welcome at Chick-fil-A. We plan to reach out to the city council to gain a better understanding of this decision," the statement said.

Travelers question decision to deny Chick-fil-A airport concessions contract 

District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino, who made the motion to exclude Chick-fil-A from a food and beverage package deal at the airport, released the following statement shortly after the City Council's vote:

"With this decision, the City Council reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion. San Antonio is a city full of compassion, and we do not have room in our public facilities for a business with a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior. Everyone has a place here, and everyone should feel welcome when they walk through our airport. I look forward to the announcement of a suitable replacement by Paradies (Lagardère)."

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