Former U.S. Congressman Blake Farenthold will have to testify in a Texas Open Meetings Act lawsuit, a judge ruled Monday.
And so will Farenthold’s boss, Calhoun Port Authority Director Charles Hausmann, as well as the man who directed Hausmann to hire him, the Calhoun Port Authority’s Board Chairman Randy Boyd.
The Victoria Advocate sued the port earlier this year, seeking to nullify Farenthold’s hiring because the action was taken without proper public notice.
The newspaper claims the port violated the Texas Open Meetings Act because it failed to write on its May 9 agenda that it was meeting in a closed session to discuss hiring Farenthold as a lobbyist for $160,000 a year.
According to minutes from that meeting, after a closed session lasting about an hour and a half, Boyd “directed the port director (Hausmann) to proceed with hiring the person discussed...”
Monday, Judge Bobby Bell also told the port to give him the certified agenda to review. As a governmental body, the port must either record its closed sessions or keep a certified agenda, which is a description of what was discussed during the closed session.
The port’s lawyer, Bill Cobb, indicated to Bell on Wednesday that the port did have a certified agenda, but John Griffin, who represents the newspaper, said based on the May 9 agenda and minutes, the certified agenda likely won’t be as detailed as the law requires.
If it’s not, that’s not really an anomaly, said Joe Larsen, who serves on the board of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
“I don’t think anybody has done an actual study of it, but I think there’s little doubt that the overwhelming majority do not record but rather maintain a brief certified agenda,” he said.
Cobb argued Wednesday that the Advocate’s questions of Hausmann and Boyd should be limited to whether Farenthold’s job is public-facing or policymaking. He argued an appellate court had previously ruled a job must be both of those things for the public to have a special interest in it.
But Bell’s ruling Monday went against that argument.
Bell agreed in part with Farenthold’s attorney, John C. Dulske. Dulske requested the Advocate be restricted from questioning Farenthold during depositions about an $84,000 settlement his office reached with an employee who claimed he sexually harassed her.
“The court is not ruling whether the settlement agreement is or is not relevant and/or admissible, just that it is not to be the subject of discovery because the settlement agreement ‘is what it is.’ The court reserves its holding on the relevance, if any, of the settlement agreement until the trial. This will give the court additional time to brief and study that issue,” Bell wrote in his ruling.
Neither Cobb nor Dulske could be reached for comment Monday afternoon, so it’s unclear if they will appeal Bell’s ruling.
Griffin said Hausmann and Boyd are tentatively scheduled to give testimony July 31 and Farenthold on Aug. 1. The case is set to go to trial in either September or October.
“The court has vindicated the public’s right to know about important discussions,” Griffin said.