TxDOT, under cover from Attorney General, keeps contracts SECRET from the public until it's too late!

An article in the Express-News today (read it here) addresses the need for government agencies to release public records more easily, except when you’re TxDOT! Here’s my letter to the reporter and submitted as a Letter to the Editor…

I appreciated your article on Open Records. If you’d like a glaring example of violation of Open Records laws and abusing the request for an Attorney General’s opinion in order to stall the process, look no further than the Texas Department of Transportation! I made a request for information in August for toll feasibility studies for Bexar and Comal counties and did not actually receive the information until November! I made another request on September 8 and STILL have not received the majority of the information.

In fact, for both requests, TxDOT tried to charge me over $400 simply to VIEW the documents on a computer at their offices! After getting an attorney involved in October, they finally agreed to let me view them in Austin at no charge, but not in San Antonio and I may not have hard copies of ANYTHING without paying $ .10 a copy (above the going rate at any copy store) plus personnel charges of $15/hour. They will not supply any documents to me on disk or via email without charging me in excess of $400. How is this freedom of information?

Texas law (Government Code 552.267) allows fees to be waived for matters of public interest. As the Regional Director of a grassroots group of concerned citizens regarding the toll plans for Bexar County, the majority being those who live directly in the affected area, clearly this information stimulates public knowledge and public debate and is purely in the public’s best interest. Why don’t you try requesting this information and see what sort of response you get? Perhaps Senator Wentworth will come to the aid of one of his own constituent’s and see to it the public gets “public’ information in a timely, affordable way.

As part of my request, we asked for the bids/contracts with foreign companies to build toll lanes on existing highways in Bexar County. The Attorney General has allowed the CDA contracts (comprehensive development agreements, or public-private partnerships) of Cintra-Zachry and Macquarie 1604 Partnership to remain closed from the public. What good does it do the public if we cannot see or give input into this process, including the negotiation of toll rates (taxes), the degree of control of the free lanes, and the amount of maintenance of the free lanes versus the toll lanes BEFORE THE CONTRACT IS SIGNED? TxDOT and members of the tolling authority have signed non-disclosure agreements and cannot discuss what’s in the contracts with the public, not even with the county commissioner who appointed them!

The Governor’s shift to privatize our public FREEways is largely being done under the cover of darkness (under the shadow of legal protection and political cover) without the public having input or access to the most crucial aspects of the contract negotiations. This secrecy breeds corruption, defies the transparency necessary for privatization projects, and violates the public trust. If privatizing our FREEways and slapping toll lanes on existing highways is the best deal for San Antonio, why can’t the public see what’s in these contracts?

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