The City of Grapevine, in North Texas, recently hired a lobby firm, Solutions for Local Control, LLC, to assist “in developing political and legislative strategies.” Behind the firm is mainly one individual, former state Rep. Fred Hill (R-Richardson), who scored only 60% on the Texans for Fiscal Responsibility Fiscal Responsibility Index during his final term in the Texas House. In what looks to be a blatant assault on public transparency, and perhaps illegally, Grapevine conducted its meetings about the lobby contract behind closed doors.
It’s been reported this week that the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram has filed suit against Grapevine for what they contend was a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Grapevine defends their lobbyist contracting process. But in a move that appears to be an attempt to shield legal action, the city enlisted the help of Republican state Rep. Vicki Truitt to request an Attorney General Opinion on the matter.
Why would Rep. Truitt place city and lobbyist secrets ahead of public transparency? In her written request, Rep. Truitt asks the Attorney General to essentially classify a tax-funded lobbyist (or in this case a lobby firm) into the same category as bureaucratic staff (i.e., holding the position of “City Attorney”).
What legal services does Solutions for Local Control, LLC provide? It would seem the activities are mostly providing consultation and advocacy. Would a person even need to be an attorney to fulfill the duties of this position?
Even if the city were to directly contract with Mr. Hill, and not Solutions for Local Control, LLC, are they providing any of the same benefits afforded to others members of the city’s staff? Does he have an office at City Hall?
Further, if Mr. Hill is in-fact serving as a City Attorney, why is his e-mail and telephone number not listed on the city’s website, like other city bureaucrats ranging from the city manager to the library director?
Many Texans are troubled that cities would use taxpayer dollars to hire lobbyists that may or may not advocate for the best interests of the taxpayers. What’s more troubling is that a city would attempt to purposefully circumvent public transparency and disclosure. It makes us wonder, what is Grapevine trying to hide?
If the City of Grapevine’s position holds, it will potentially have a major chilling effect on local government transparency throughout the state.