Victoria County DA considers open-government complaint against City Council
June 11, 2013 at 1:11 a.m.
Updated June 12, 2013 at 1:12 a.m.
• Up to six months in a county jail and/or a $500 fine for a violation of the Open Meetings Act by meeting in a walking quorum. Sect. 551.143 of the Texas Government Code.
• Up to six months in a county jail and/or a $1,000 fine for the failure or refusal of an officer for public information to provide access or copying of public information. Sect. 552.353 of the Texas Government Code.
• Up to three months in a county jail and/or up to a $4,000 fine for the destruction, removal or alteration of public information. Sect. 552.351 of the Texas Government Code.
Source: Texas Government Code
The Victoria Advocate filed a letter of complaint Tuesday with the Victoria County criminal district attorney against the Victoria City Council.
The newspaper plans to file a duplicate complaint Wednesday with the Texas attorney general.
Criminal District Attorney Stephen Tyler said the complaint "is being considered."
"I believe there are two areas of inquiry," Tyler said, "One: Was there an open meetings violation? And two: In response to the inquiry, on the basis of the Public Information Act, were there violations by noncompliance?"
The newspaper has been investigating whether council members Emett Alvarez, David Hagan, Joe Truman and Josephine Soliz violated the Open Meetings Act by deciding together on their actions in advance of the May 14 council meeting to canvass the election results.
Former Mayor Will Armstrong, Councilman Tom Halepaska and Mayor Paul Polasek made available emails and phone records, as requested.
Polasek said the city, through City Attorney Thomas Gwodsz, was trying to comply but could not compel individual council members to respond to the public records request.
"We are trying to cooperate," the mayor said. "We've given everything we have within the limits of what we've been provided."
Councilman Alvarez released two emails, one between City Manager Charmelle Garrett and another between Victoria Main Street Director Sara Rodriguez.
Council members Hagan and Soliz both issued statements, sent two minutes apart Monday afternoon, saying they had no personal records pertaining to city business. Neither has made phone records available.
Councilman Joe Truman issued a statement that he has no emails pertaining to the request and was waiting on his phone company for a password to release phone records.
Hagan, who issued only a statement on the request, said Tuesday that he has complied in every way with the city and the requests.
"It's the city's responsibility to make sure (the Advocate) gets those records and everything you need in a timely fashion," Hagan said. "If there's a dereliction of duty on city staff, then that's what it is."
Alvarez said he was preparing to release all of his emails regarding city business starting from last year.
"If we want transparency, you've got it, baby," he said.
He said he also was planning to release his phone records once the bills are available, which he expects to receive this week.
Alvarez said the city does not own, possess or control his personal emails or cellphone.
"I have a dilemma here, and do I want to exercise and basically contend that section 552.002 in the public information chapter, that I am an individual, not a governmental body or that the governmental body doesn't own or have a right to it?" Alvarez said.