On January 22 I made an open records request for documents pertaining to the deal cut between the city and Donnie Nelson’s Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC to quintuple the size of the ballfield turning it into a public events venue on public land.
On February 6 I received a notification from the City Secretary’s Office that my request was being forwarded to the State Attorney General. The AG was to rule on whether some of my request fell outside an open records request. Last Thursday I received a copy of a more expansive explanation by the City Attorney’s office to the AG specifying why they were seeking the blockage of some records.
This new letter is all about the written and the unwritten.
“The documents in Exhibit B and the marked information in Exhibit C consists of a representative sample of the attorney-client communications contained in the requested information that we believe are exempt from disclosure under Section 552.107(1) of the Act which exempts from disclosure “information that the attorney general or an attorney of a political subdivision is prohibited from disclosing because of a duty to the client under the Texas Rules of Evidence, the Texas Rules of Criminal Evidence, or the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.” A governmental body generally may withhold under Section 552.107(1) information revealing client confidences or containing legal advice or opinion. ORD No. 574 (1990). The Texas Rules of Evidence define the general rule of attorney-client privilege as “a confidential communication made for the purpose of facilitating the rendition of professional legal services to the client.” Tex. R. Evid. 503(b)(1).” [Emphasis mine]
Even though I don’t know what’s contained in “Exhibits B and C”, this is a fascinating justification.
First, my request contains no request for any information that would seemingly involve any legal opinions by the City Attorney’s office.
“This includes communications and documents surrounding the deal, negotiations and meetings between city council members David Blewett, and Adam Medrano and Parks and Recreation chair Calvert Collins-Bratton and the applicant (Reverchon Park Sports and Entertainment LLC.) and Its representatives.”
So the city is saying that communications between three city officials and one private entity include legal opinions rendered by the City Attorney’s office about said negotiations? Queries along the lines of, “Is this legal?” spring to mind.
Between the lines, is whatever legal advice given contradictory to what ultimately happened? Because if the City Attorney’s office rendered legal opinions that were followed (giving legal backup to the proceedings), why this fight to not disclose? If everything was in lockstep, those fighting disclosure would be shouting from the rooftops everything was copacetic. They’re not.
Third, I like that disclosure would seemingly violate the “Texas Rules of Evidence, the Texas Rules of Criminal Evidence, or the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct”. This deal has spawned two open records requests (at least), one lawsuit and a potential ethics violation – seemingly hitting the trifecta of evidentiary disclosure exemptions. Not a good sign.
The letter continues:
“These documents clearly consist of confidential communications made by clients (city staff and city officials) to their attorney [Dallas City Attorney’s office] for the purpose of seeking professional legal services….”
It was good that a legal opinion was consulted during the Reverchon negotiations between the December and January city council meetings. However, that those communications are now being hidden behind legal skirts again strongly hints that those opinions weren’t followed in parts or their entirety.
Finally, there’s this bit that I find very troubling:
“A draft of a document that has been released or will be released in final form to the public is excepted from disclosure in its entirety under Section 552.111 of the Act because such a draft necessarily represents the advice, recommendations, or opinions of the drafter as to the form and content of the final documents. Open Records Decision No. 559 (1990). The marked draft documents in Exhibit B will be released in final form to the public.”
So the public has no business seeing drafts that might shed light on the more bald-faced intent of city representatives? We have no business understanding intent? That is seriously troubling and apparently perfectly legal. How are citizens supposed to render informed electoral decisions in their voting booths if actual, candid intent is legally obscured behind spit-and-polished documents?
And what about that last line – “…will be released“? According to Parks Board president Calvert Collins-Bratton, “All of the documents are public since they were presented to Council.” A troubling contradiction from someone rumored to have her eye on a city council seat.
Political Privilege or Smoking Gun?
Some documents in my request are attempting to be withheld because of various forms of privilege. I’ve been told that such consultations with the state AG are routine when those involved want to deny or at least slow-roll document release. Since I received this latest letter, I’ve again queried city hall contacts who say that I’m reading the situation correctly – specifically that the attorney-client defense is most likely being used to hide the revelation that the legal advice given by the City Attorney’s office didn’t match city officials’ ultimate actions.
In legal discourse, what is written is as important as what’s not.
What we’re unlikely to ever know is who is sounding the alarm at City Hall. Is it those named in my request? After all, there are a lot of high-flyers, including the mayor, pushing to get this deal done.