Attorney general: City manager candidates not a competitive secret


Nor is the information a trade secret or “highly intimate and embarrassing,” attorney general’s office says.

The city of Austin refused to release information Statesman requested under Texas Public Information Act.

The city of Austin cannot withhold records showing who applied for its city manager position by claiming the information would harm the city competitively in a search for qualified applicants, the Texas attorney general’s office says.

Nor is the information a trade secret, a matter that would harm the search firm competitively or “highly intimate and embarrassing,” Matthew Taylor, an assistant attorney general in the open records division, wrote in his opinion.

The opinion says that the city and its executive search firm, Russell Reynolds, must turn over the bulk of the information the American-Statesman requested related to the search for a new city manager, including candidate applications. Austin may withhold only attorney-client privileged emails and some personal email addresses and cellphone numbers.

Diversions and disguises: Behind Austin’s city manager search

The opinion comes after Austin refused to release information the Statesman requested under the Texas Public Information Act. The city requested permission to deny the request to the attorney general, claiming its release would hurt Austin competitively. It also comes a month after the City Council voted to hire Minneapolis City Coordinator Spencer Cronk.

The opinion could provide some parameters to Boeing v. Paxton, the 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling that Austin relied on in its arguments, which found that lease provisions between Boeing and the San Antonio Port Authority could be kept confidential because they could hurt the aerospace giant competitively. Texas cities since then have used the ruling to block release of everything from taxpayer spending on entertainment to contracts to feed schoolchildren.

Capital Metro also cited similar arguments last month in denying the Statesman’s records requests for information about applicants for the transit agency’s top job.

But the attorney general’s office rejected Austin’s claim that it was competing with even tiny cities such as Watauga and Sachse for qualified candidates and said competition for public employees is not a “competitive situation” under the law.

AUSTIN VS. WATAUGA? City claims competition to keep candidates secret

The Statesman sued the city for not releasing the information and, later, for leaving the location of a posted public meeting to try to avoid reporters while interviewing city manager candidates.

It’s unclear how the city will respond. Austin city spokesman David Green said only, “We are aware of the ruling and are evaluating next steps.” If the city still refuses to comply with the public information requests, it will have to sue the attorney general.

Statesman Executive Editor Debbie Hiott said it was encouraging that the attorney general’s office would not go along with the city’s “overly broad interpretation of competitive concerns” in releasing public information.

“Hopefully given this ruling the city staff will recognize the need for greater transparency going forward, and won’t allow themselves to be led by consultants into making decisions contrary to the public interest,” Hiott said.

The City Council last year voted unanimously to keep information about the city manager candidates secret until picking a finalist, upon the recommendation of search firm Russell Reynolds. The private-sector firm had never conducted a search for a city manager. The council later reversed itself and released six finalists’ names, after a bizarre episode in which council members raced away in vans to an airport terminal to try to stop Statesman reporters from staking out interviews.

WHAT HAPPENED? A van getaway, a maybe-illegal meeting, secret manager candidates

In addition to rejecting Austin’s Boeing argument, this week’s attorney general opinion also rejected arguments that application information was a Russell Reynolds trade secret or an intimate nonpublic matter.

Even some portions of information that might have been confidential will have to be released after the city included redactions in the information it sent to the attorney general for his opinion. The office said it couldn’t tell what the redactions had blacked out, thus, whatever it was is now presumed public.

The attorney general gave Austin permission to withhold information related to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent, but it’s unclear whether that person was a candidate for city manager or had some other relevance.

IN THEIR WORDS: Council members explain secrecy on city manager candidates

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Cold front to bring rain, cooler temperatures to Austin
Cold front to bring rain, cooler temperatures to Austin

Any rain is good rain in Austin, as long as it doesn’t fall too fast, forecasters say — and it likely won't on Wednesday as a weak cold front comes into Central Texas near the end of a particularly wet month.   The cold front moving from the west into the area could produce showers and thunderstorms through Thursday, National...
Hiking cost of entry fees attempts to address city’s ailing pool system
Hiking cost of entry fees attempts to address city’s ailing pool system

Starting next week, the price to take a dip in a city of Austin pool will rise. On Monday, adult residents will start paying $5 — or $2 more — to enter Barton Springs Pool and all other city pools. Juniors aged 12 to 17 will pay $3, and children from 1 to 11 will pay $2. Both figures represent a $1 increase. Senior residents will pay $2...
UT investigating Sen. Charles Schwertner after sexual misconduct claim
UT investigating Sen. Charles Schwertner after sexual misconduct claim

The University of Texas is investigating an allegation that state Sen. Charles Schwertner sent a sexually explicit image and text message to a graduate student he met at an on-campus event this summer, three senior UT officials with knowledge of the investigation told the American-Statesman. If the allegation is deemed true, the university would consider...
Driver hits, critically injures pedestrian near Guadalupe, 29th streets
Driver hits, critically injures pedestrian near Guadalupe, 29th streets

A driver hit and injured a pedestrian near Guadalupe and 29th streets Tuesday afternoon, Austin police said. The man, estimated to be in his 30s, was hospitalized with critical, life-threatening injuries, Austin-Travis County EMS officials said.  The driver stayed at the scene after hitting the man, police said.  Police responded at 3:53...
Report: Church that opposes gay marriage can still use AISD center
Report: Church that opposes gay marriage can still use AISD center

Amid pressure from conservatives, the Austin school district will continue allowing Georgetown-based Celebration Church to rent the district’s Performing Arts Center for Sunday service, according to church officials. “We are proud to support the excellent work of the AISD and are thankful that all community organizations like Celebration...
More Stories