When Calhoun County voters elected two newcomers to the Calhoun Port Authority board – a rare ousting of incumbents from a formerly obscure public office – they sent a loud and clear message: Enough of this. We want transparency.
Luis De La Garza and Jasper “Jay” Cuellar, who entered the race largely in response to revelations about misdeeds behind closed doors, seemed ready to deliver. Recently, however, the board took a step in the direction of less transparency, not more. At the end of July, the board announced that it would no longer email agendas to its mailing list ahead of meetings.
To be fair, the decision is legal: The port board will continue to post agendas at the Calhoun County courthouse as required by law, as well as on the port’s website. And it’s far from the shadiest thing the port board has done – although past leadership didn’t set that bar too high when they secretly hired a disgraced former congressman.
Nevertheless, the decision is a blow to transparency and deserves closer scrutiny. Under the old system, all of the entities on the board’s mailing list – a collection of more than 30 businesses, media outlets and concerned citizens – could be sure that they would be notified of a meeting called outside of the board’s regular schedule. Now, the only way they would know about it is if they happened to check the court’s website or wander into the county courthouse – not something most of us do on a regular basis.
Transparency is more than a campaign slogan or a one-time choice. It’s a commitment that has to be renewed every day by leaders’ decisions.
The board has already agreed to revisit the matter of emails at a future meeting. We encourage these elected officials to bring back the email notifications, which cost nothing and keep the port authority’s door (and its meetings) open to its constituency.
The port authority’s new policy may follow the letter of the law, but it doesn’t fit the spirit of the Texas Open Meetings Act. After a long era of secrecy and deception, the board must commit to transparency if it hopes to regain the public’s trust.