by BRAD ROLLINS
Editor and Publisher
Officials will keep secret a list of 15 properties being offered to Hays County as the cornerstone of a habitat conservation plan and parks and open space acquisition.
In October, the Hays County Commissioners Court issued an open call for projects as it contemplates how to use the $8,656,017 remaining from $30 million in parks and open space money approved by voters in May 2007. The proposals are awaiting review from the Parks and Open Space Advisory Board, whose members make a recommendation to the commissioners court that appointed them.
At Tuesday’s commissioners court session, Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton ignited lengthy debate by sponsoring an item that would have required county staff to release the information to the public, including people who submitted projects and want to review their competition. The Texas Public Information Act and subsequent attorney generals’ opinions allow governments to withhold a wide range of information about potential real estate purchases, but Barton said officials in this case have no reason to do so.
“It seems to me no reason to foster even the slightest shadow of a doubt about the openness of this process. We ought to push all of this into the light of day,” Barton said.
Grants Administrator Jeff Hauff, backed by County Judge Elizabeth Sumter, said the county owes it to applicants to keep information about their properties confidential.
“I’m not saying close this process entirely but there are some sensitive land negotiations involved and I think those who proposed property to us have some expectation of confidentiality,” Hauff said.
Said Sumter, “What does it benefit the county to open up the properties? … I tend to wonder if we open the door now, does it somehow taint the process?”
Barton said objections seem to be based on presumption that the property list ought to be kept secret instead of the presumption that it should be disclosed unless there is good reason not to. He was supported in the argument by Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley who said, “I don’t see how in any way it puts the county at a disadvantage in having this information out there.”
A majority of the court, however, opposed releasing the information, at least for now. Pct. 4 Commissioner Karen Ford said she would like to get a recommendation for a real estate firm the county intends to hire to help it acquire the property.
Officials hope to find a property or properties with about 500 acres of black-capped vireo or golden-cheeked warbler habitat to kick-start its Habitat Conservation Plan with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.Email | Print
Well so much for Judge Sumter’s often repeated saying that her “office may be in the County Courthouse, but the citizens own the building.”
When these property owners submitted proposals – they knew that public funds would be used to purchase the land and that their proposals would probably come under public scrutiny. It kind of makes you wonder what is going on here.
Guess we can rest assured that Charles O’Dell will be quiet on this issue. So at least one good thing will come out of it.