SAN ANTONIO - District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse sent a letter to the Bexar County district attorney asking for an investigation into what he believes was a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act by the City Council during its discussion on whether to bid to host the Republican National Committee Convention in 2020.
The council members held the discussion May 3 during an executive session, a closed door meeting not open to the public.
Mayor Ron Nirenberg told reporters following that meeting that “the City Council did not believe that moving forward with a bid was worth it for the city of San Antonio,” citing, in large part, cost to the city.
Nirenberg requested the executive session meeting.
The Texas Open Meetings Act prohibits a governmental body from taking action, voting or making a decision during an executive session.
Brockhouse alleges that’s exactly what happened.
“The decision was not to pursue. The fact that we chose not to pursue is, in fact, a decision,” he said. “What I’m trying to do right now is simply be able to ask questions, right? To be able to say, ‘Hey, this is what we did. Is what we did wrong?’”
Andy Segovia, attorney for the city of San Antonio, said there was no violation committed by the council and Brockhouse sought his council prior to that meeting to make clear what could and could not be discussed.
Both Brockhouse and Segovia agreed that politics were kept out of the discussion.
“Part of the RFP (request for proposal), as well, was the city to guarantee funding for the convention. That’s what made this different,” Segovia said.
The decision, he added, was made by Visit SA.
“Visit SA was there to gauge the support of the council, and they determined they didn’t have the full support they needed to move forward,” Segovia said.
Bill Aleshire, an attorney from Austin who specializes in laws regarding government transparency and previously served as Travis County judge, believes the council violated the Open Meetings Act.
Aleshire serves as a hotline attorney for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
“It’s a fairly blatant violation to make a decision in executive session as was announced by the mayor,” Aleshire said. “They could legally have the discussion in executive session, but they could not make a decision in executive session and that's where the mistake was.”
Aleshire added that he believes the council committed a civil violation of the act, not a criminal one, and could have opened itself up to a civil lawsuit.
When asked whether any decision was made during the executive session, a spokesperson for Nirenberg’s office said, “no vote was taken.”
In a written statement, Nirenberg said: “City Council’s conversation about the Republican National Convention was conducted in the standard manner for economic development and other matters that are covered by the exceptions in the Open Meetings Act. We conducted the meeting as advised by legal counsel, who was present. We are confident that the discussion was compliant with state law.”
Brockhouse said he cannot reveal the details of the closed-door discussion because it happened during an executive session. He also sent the letter requesting an investigation by Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and the Texas Rangers.
“We can end this right now,” Brockhouse said. “Lift the executive privilege and let me state on the record what I have a problem with in executive session.”
LaHood issued a statement Wednesday saying, “We are currently conducting our legal analysis of the issues presented to determine what if any course of action is appropriate.”
In response to Brockhouse's claim, District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez issued the following statement:
"I’m taken aback and disappointed by Councilman Brockhouse’s lamentable attacks and the casting of ugly aspersions on the work this City Council does to gather information and discuss matters allowed under the Texas Open Meetings Act. His accusation that we committed criminal violations of Texas law makes for exciting red-meat politics to help bolster his aspirations to higher office. However, if getting accused of a crime is what we get from meeting with Councilman Brockhouse, why in the world would we want to meet with him for anything else going forward? In my view, playing fast and loose with referrals to criminal prosecutors and law enforcement to score points is cheap and it’s what people hate about modern-day populist politics."
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