Wentworth claims to be advocate of Open Government, but what about secret toll road agreements?

Jeff Wentworth touts himself as a strong advocate for open government and yet DOES NOTHING to force the Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to open the records on secret toll road agreements. Having just concluded Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know Texans are demanding just that! Texans have a RIGHT TO KNOW what taxpayers are being asked to pay for. The courts agreed and yet TxDOT and Cintra continue to keep the records secret while they tie up the case in court and continue building the toll road (Read article in Houston Chronicle here.).

Wentworth asked the Transportation Commission to consider the original plan for 281 improvements rather than push tolls, but his law firm represents road builders and the BIG MONEY special interests who stand to profit handsomely off these toll roads. So perhaps the Transportation Commission realizes his letters and gestures are just that, gestures with NO REAL TEETH. Therefore, on they march to convert exitsing highways into tollways without so much as a REAL fight from our legislators! Toothless overtures won’t cut it. Demand toll-free solutions and build consensus (not throw in the towel at a veto threat) to FIX the transportation funding mechanisms (like stopping the diversion of gas taxes to fund things other than highways!). Stop the blame game and get us moving again!

Read how Wentworth’s law firm promises to use its government affairs professionals to “secure competitive advantages for their clients”: “We combine unmatched government affairs capabilities with the substantive and legal background necessary both to discern how decisions made in Washington, DC, and in state capitals will affect clients’ interests, and to develop and implement strategies to defend and further those interests and secure competitive advantages for our clients.”

CONTACT WENTWORTH at (512) 463-0125, (210) 826-7800 or jeff.wentworth@senate.state.tx.us and ask for:
1) a true side by side comparison of highway costs using gas taxes versus tolls (as was done by the Austin MPO who found it was only 2 cent gas tax increase, NOT 50 cents to $1.00 as the Transportation Commission claims with no PROOF)
2) a public vote on all toll projects (whether they’re in progress or not)
3) to put up REAL opposition to tolling 281 and insist the ORIGINAL plan that’s ALREADY FUNDED be installed NOW!

Sunshine Week sheds light on the importance of open government
by Jeff Wentworth
State Senator, District 25
Published: 03-20-06

Texas news media recently observed the second anniversary of “Sunshine Week: Your Right to Know.” While the official weeklong observance has concluded, I believe that the spirit of Sunshine Week should continue throughout the year.

As a strong advocate for open government, I am reminding Texans that the Texas Public Information Act affirms each person’s entitlement to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.

Unfortunately, public officials often fail to provide Texans with the information that they request and are entitled to have. These officials fail to provide the requested information in spite of landmark freedom-of-information legislation that I authored and the Texas Legislature passed in 1999.

Requests for open records rulings made to the Attorney General’s Open Records Division have increased nearly 50 percent over the last two years. In 2005, the division received more than 12,000 open records requests. More than 10,000 calls per year are made to the Open Government Hotline’s toll-free number, (877) OPEN TEX (673-6839).

While it is the Attorney General’s job to determine what information must be disclosed and what may legally be kept confidential, many of the requests would not be necessary if public officials knew the law. While some public officials may deliberately stonewall those requesting information, the vast majority may request an Attorney General’s ruling because they simply aren’t sure what is public information and what is not.

To ensure that state government is both open and responsive, I filed Senate Bill 286 during last year’s regular legislative session at the request of Attorney General Abbott. The Legislature passed the bill, and it was signed by the Governor. Senate Bill 286, which became effective January 1 of this year, requires that the elected and appointed public officials in the 2,600 governmental entities in Texas take an open government training and education course through the Attorney General’s Office.

I am happy to report that 4,600 public officials have completed the one-hour Public Information Act course, and 5,000 have completed the Open Meetings Act course. The courses, which are available both online and on video, are being taken by city and county officials, school board members, and state agency and commission employees.

One Texas city sponsored an open meeting where all city board members watched the two-hour video. After the video, a panel answered questions. My Jurisprudence Committee director and general counsel, M. L. Calcote, was a panel member.

Information about filing open records requests and filing open records complaints is available on the Attorney General’s Web site: www.oag.state.tx.us.

I am happy to see that public officials are responding in such a positive manner. To ensure that state government is open to all Texans, I encourage every public official to follow the law and take the required courses so they may better understand their
responsibilities and respond appropriately and in a timely manner.