A legal exemption has allowed a North Texas water district—which has been mired in a slew of scandals estimated to cost over a billion dollars—to keep contracts related to a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign hidden from taxpayers until, at least, January 2020.
In July, Texas Scorecard detailed how the Tarrant Regional Water District and the City of Dallas renewed their agreement for a “use less water” initiative, a five-year marketing campaign promoting water conservation that cost taxpayers a pricey $3.3 million. The arrangement between the governments originally began in 2009, and this year the North Texas Municipal Water District—whose service area includes parts of Collin, Kaufman, and Hunt counties, among others—joined the deal.
The agreement is structured so that Dallas and the NTMWD pay the TRWD, and the TRWD pays the businesses contracted for the marketing campaign. That means all money for the marketing campaign flows through TRWD.
Texas Scorecard wanted to find out which businesses were benefitting from the campaign, so we submitted an open records request in July to TRWD requesting “documents corresponding to all contracts between the TRWD and any or all media outlets or any other organization.”
In response, TRWD appealed to the Office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, wanting to “withhold a portion of the responsive information sought in the Request.” The law firm representing TRWD—Pope, Hardwicke, Christie, Schell, Kelly & Taplett—argued that “[r]elease of the responsive information will put the District at a disadvantage from obtaining competitive bids from consultants [REDACTED].”
Recently, Texas Scorecard received the ruling from the attorney general that “the district may withhold” the contracts.
Due to the Texas Supreme Court’s Boeing decision from several years ago, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has, for the time being, allowed contracts related to the multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to remain hidden from taxpayers. Legislation passed earlier this year eliminates this exemption and will go into effect on January 1, 2020.
The AG’s decision is only the latest of many roadblocks Texas Scorecard has encountered during its investigation. Charlie Uniform Tango—which proudly displays communist imagery in its office—and RO Two Media, companies that benefit from these contracts, clammed up when questioned.
This is not the only scandal involving the water district; they were caught earlier this year blowing $41,000 of taxpayer dollars on giving water accessories to elementary school students.
TRWD is also at the epicenter of the billion-dollar Panther Island boondoggle, a massive government plan—overseen by the son of U.S. Rep Kay Granger—conceived in 2003 to reroute the Trinity River via a 1.5-mile bypass, and redevelop prime Fort Worth real estate, all under the guise of flood control. Texas Scorecard covered a review which found the project has so far cost taxpayers more than $383 million—with zero construction completed. Cost estimates for the project have exploded from $435 million in 2006 to more than $1.16 billion in 2018.
The review found only the design phase was finished, but that has been contradicted in another appeal to the AG by the same lawyers representing the district in this appeal.
TRWD, instead of being a governing body focused on flood control, is one mired in scandals of how it wastes taxpayer money.
Local taxpayers concerned about their money and this marketing campaign may contact the City Council of Dallas, the appointed board of NTMWD, and the elected board of the TRWD.
The ruling from the AG’s office can be found here.