The Calhoun Port Authority is seeking a Texas Attorney General’s opinion regarding whether it illegally hired ex-congressman Blake Farenthold as a lobbyist.
But if it is sued and a district judge concurs the port violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, Farenthold’s hiring will be nullified and an AG opinion will not matter.
“If the port was interested in understanding its obligations under the Texas Open Meetings Act, they should have asked that before entering into a decision to hire Mr. Farenthold with no public notice,” Victoria attorney John Griffin said.
“The request for AG ruling by the Calhoun Port Authority would not affect any Open Meetings Act lawsuit,” added Joe Larsen, a Houston media attorney who serves on the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
Those attorneys said Thursday the agenda the port posted for its May 9 meeting had to specifically state the board would be discussing hiring Farenthold as a lobbyist. It did not.
In a statement sent Friday afternoon, Calhoun County Port Authority Board Chairman Randy L. Boyd said he’s confident the AG will not see it that way “because our executive director (Charles Hausmann) has the authority under the Texas Water Code and the board adopted an employee policy manual to hire and fire all employees except for the port director and assistant port director.”
He said they’ll respect the attorney general’s opinion regardless.
According to the statement, Hausmann hired Farenthold because the port has since 1999 tried to get the Army Corps of Engineers to recognize the severity of its undermined and scouring jetties. The Corps finally did in 2016 but has yet to fund the repair, which will cost between $90 million and $100 million. The port thinks the Corps ought to pay as it was one of the parties that originally constructed the jetties in the 1960s.
“Blake has the mission to ‘get this done’ for the taxpayers of Calhoun County. Blake has experience as a former member of the Transportation Committee and can also help us with our widening and deepening project,” Boyd said in the statement.
Also Friday, Farenthold attended a Texas Tribune event and dodged its reporters’ questions afterward.
They asked him whether his hiring was illegal.
“I’m trying to get on with my life. I wasn’t involved other than I talked to them about a job. I don’t know anything about it. I’m not talking to reporters. I’m a private citizen now,” he said at the event, which was about rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey and was held in Corpus Christi.
Emails between Hausmann and Farenthold provided to the media appear to undermine the port’s argument that the board did not vote May 9 to hire Farenthold because it was Hausmann’s decision.
“What’s up with the lawyers? I’m ready to get to work for y’all. Any problems I should know about?” Farenthold wrote April 30.
Hausmann replied a few days later.
“Blake, our attorneys spoke yesterday. The employment contract has to be approved by the board, ... ” he wrote.
Farenthold resigned from Congress after settling a sexual harassment complaint with $84,000 in taxpayer money. He told ABC News he will not repay the money. He’s also told Gov. Greg Abbott he will not pay for the cost of the special election Abbott called to fill the remainder of his term.