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County Attorney accuses LCRA of violating Public Information Act

Wednesday, June 29, 2011 by Michael Kanin

According to the Travis County Attorney’s Office, the Lower Colorado River Authority violated the Texas Public Information Act in a series of interactions with the City of West Lake Hills. In a letter to LCRA General Counsel Vic Ramirez, Executive Assistant County Attorney James W. Collins wrote that his office intends to “file a civil enforcement action” against the organization.


The LCRA disputes the charge.


West Lake Hills sought the ruling in an eight-point complaint filed by city administrator Robert Wood. In it, he alleges that the LCRA was unresponsive to a series of public information requests the city filed seeking documents that deal with LCRA’s proposed sale of 32 municipal water and wastewater systems.


The LCRA maintains that it has done nothing wrong. “We are confident we have complied with the Public Information Act, and have provided the city of West Lake Hills with more than what was required to respond to the city’s request,” LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma told In Fact Daily. “We have released all the bid documents that we provided to all entities interested in submitting bids that were due on May 23, 2011.”


Wood isn’t so sure. In his May 18 complaint, Wood writes that he requested documents from a Feb. 16 LCRA board meeting where the agency sold utilities to the cities of Elgin and Marble Falls on two separate occasions. Wood also says that he asked for “all bid documents” related to the LCRA’s sale process for its remaining water and wastewater utilities.


Wood’s allegations suggest that the LCRA then failed “to release public documents in its possession”; failed “to state whether it was in possession of responsive documents at the time of request”; failed “to release documents … without seeking a decision of the attorney general”; and failed to “state a compelling reason to withhold the requested information.”


Collins’ comments are blunt. “Based on the information supplied by the parties, both in writing and orally, the Travis County Attorney’s Office has determined that the LCRA violated the (Texas Public Information Act) by failing to provide documents to the City,” he writes. “Although the LCRA provided some responsive documents on May 27, 2011, it is apparent that the LCRA has not provided all documents in its possession that were responsive to the City’s … request.”


The letter was dated June 17. It gave the utility four days to correct the problem. West Lake Hills Mayor Dave Claunch told the Travis County Commissioners Court at a Tuesday hearing on the matter that he had not yet seen all of the documents that he considers responsive.


Claunch said, “There is the possibility of criminal investigation, prosecutions.”


West Lake Hills is one of a consortium of municipalities formed to purchase the remaining LCRA water and wastewater systems. Leander City Attorney Barney Knight told the court that the consortium’s private competitors are expected to offer no less than $300 million for the utilities.


Knight further explained that in his experience this sort of sale resulted in a doubling or tripling of utility rates.

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