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List of potential LCRA bidders includes Wall Street investment firms

Monday, July 18, 2011 by Michael Kanin

In the process of selling a host of Central Texas water utilities, the Lower Colorado River Authority has obtained confidentiality agreements from the Wall Street investment firm Morgan Stanley, an Australian “alternative investment” group called Access Capital Advisors, and the Austin Water Utility.


In all, nearly 25 firms are on the list.


Assistant Austin Water Director David Anders told In Fact Daily that his utility is “not interested in those facilities.” Anders said his organization acquired the documents in case it decided to make a play for the utilities, but it eventually decided that they were too far from the service area to justify an actual bid.


Meanwhile, the City of West Lake Hills received more documents related to the sale of the LCRA’s water and wastewater systems last week. These included the 20-plus signed confidentiality agreements. However, West Lake Hills Mayor Dave Claunch said that he believes that the agency is still not in compliance with a series of open records requests his city filed earlier this year.


“We suspect that there are additional documents that are responsive,” he said on Friday afternoon.


Claunch said that he expects to meet with the Travis County attorney in an effort to encourage that office to continue legal action against the LCRA. However, LCRA spokesperson Clara Tuma told In Fact Daily via email, “LCRA has provided West Lake Hills everything it asked for in its requests for documents. The requests asked for bid documents and information that was sent to potential bidders. LCRA has released all documents that fall under the broadest interpretation of those categories.”


West Lake Hills City Administrator Robert Wood filed a complaint with the county attorney on May 18. In it, he wrote that the LCRA 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.” (See In Fact Daily, June 29).


In a June 17 letter, Executive Assistant County Attorney Jim Collins informed the organization that his office had “determined that the LCRA violated the Texas Public Information Act” and that the county would “file a civil enforcement action” against the agency if it didn’t turn over documents within four days.


The Texas Attorney General’s Office followed that with a June 28 letter echoing the county attorney’s opinion. “We find that … the LCRA failed to comply with the requirements mandated,” wrote Assistant Attorney General June Harden. She then concluded that this failure “results in the legal presumption that the information is public and must be released unless a compelling reason exists to withhold the information from disclosure.”


Claunch said that he believes that West Lake Hills is entitled to details that sale facilitator BMO Financial may have used to inform itself about the status of the utilities in question. “We were expecting to see correspondence between BMO and the LCRA,” he said. “They gave us the bid packet but not the documents that went into the bid packet.”


Tuma responded, “We’re surprised to hear a question has arisen about the release of some categories of additional documents that were not included in the city’s earlier requests. We have provided what the city asked for and make it a point to be precise about our responses to these types of requests in order to ensure requestors gets the correct documents.”


She added, “We are unable to guess what the city might want, and to us, spending time arguing about this in the media seems pointless. If city officials would like additional documents, they can submit a request for specific documents and we will respond following the process spelled out in the law.”


Bids to acquire the water systems are due on August 3. The LCRA board may choose a purchaser as early as August 24.

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