McLendon-Chisholm has stalled an open records request seeking campaign finance reports and personal financial statements from one of its city council members.

Councilmember Bryan McNeal, who is also running for mayor, specifically asked the city to challenge Texas Scorecard’s request to the Texas attorney general’s office.

Appealing to the AG’s office in perpetuity is one of the many ways that Texas politicians circumvent the state’s outdated open records request process, which is laid out in the Public Information Act.

It was widely reported on April 10 that Harris County and Travis County have filed hundreds of appeals to open records requests this year alone; 875 and 491, respectively. Dallas County has filed 148, while Bexar has filed 107.

James Quintero of the Texas Public Policy Foundation told Texas Scorecard that although the transparency standards were “truly aspirational” when first passed in 1973, they have been “hollowed out by the Legislature and the courts” since then.

“One key challenge today is that the law is no longer geared toward a presumption of openness. Instead, it provides governmental entities with many different avenues to withhold public information, either in whole or in part,” explained Quintero, the policy director for TPPF’s Taxpayer Protection Project.

It’s time for a complete reworking of the Public Information Act with the aim of restoring the principle that government is the servant and the people are its master.

Among the reforms Quintero would like to see are the elimination of many exceptions to the standards, the penalizing of governmental entities that appeal excessively and erroneously to the AG’s office, and streamlining the searchability process.

Texas Scorecard asked every member of the city council and its mayor, Keith Short, for comment on McLendon-Chisholm’s appeal.

Mayor Pro Tempore Adrienne Balkum, who is running against McNeal for mayor, replied that McNeal has a history of evading open records requests.

She first alleged that McNeal attempted to avoid an open records request on communications between him and former Councilmember Jennifer Hoffman by using a phone app that allows them to have encrypted conversations.

“Another time, Councilmember Bryan McNeal left his phone at the gym, bought a new phone, and provided a receipt as proof of purchase to the City Secretary,” Balkum claimed.

Balkum also provided Texas Scorecard an email from McNeal to City Secretary Shelly Green and City Administrator Konrad Hildebrandt requesting the city work to stall the request by appealing to the AG’s office for clarification.

“The city has in possession any paperwork filled out by me in the 2022 elections which had me unopposed so no money was spent. As for my personal financials I request an opinion as my wife and family are apart of these and the scope of the request is broad and needs to be defined,” McNeal wrote on March 1.

McNeal objected to another open records request Texas Scorecard sent on February 29 surrounding communications in his and Green’s possession.

Balkum said Green submitted a letter of resignation on March 4. Her last day with the city was on March 15.

“My communications with the City Secretary are to[o] broad in scope being my communication with the City Secretary is by way of Email only and none have any to do with the request stated unless being made aware of meetings, council agendas and so on,” McNeal’s email read.

Short had a different perspective on McNeal’s history. He told Texas Scorecard that he was unaware of McNeal evading them in the past.

“I am not sure that the city would see every request sent to him,” Short stated

City Councilmember Daniel Tucker said on April 8 that he was “not so eagerly disposed towards answering” questions surrounding McNeal.

“I will be interested in what you will have to say through your reporting, but [I] am not convinced that the internecine bickering you have observed in MC [McNeal] would offer sufficient substance for the makings of interesting journalism,” Tucker wrote.

Tucker also said conversations between him and McNeal would be made available for those interested at an April 9 city council meeting.

Texas Scorecard asked McNeal and other city council members for comments on Balkum’s allegations and this email but has not received any more responses before publication.

The publication also requested a comment from the AG’s office. They have yet to reply.

Luca Cacciatore

Luca H. Cacciatore is a journalist for Texas Scorecard. He is an American Moment inaugural fellow and former welder.