GALVESTON

Port of Galveston Director Rodger Rees in recent weeks attempted to keep members of the Wharves Board of Trustees, the government body that hired him, from seeing documents produced by a consultant that Rees hired to survey port employees about their workplace.

Rees’ attempts to withhold the documents went as far as to write the Texas Attorney General’s Office for an opinion about whether the documents could be withheld from trustees. The port director ultimately capitulated last week and sent the documents to trustees.

But the incident left Rees defending himself, saying he was attempting to keep a promise he made to port employees, while board members said they expected to have a public discussion about openness and transparency of the port’s administration.

ORIGINS

The dispute between Rees and the board began in mid-March, when Trustee Elizabeth Beeton requested information about an employee survey that Rees had commissioned late last year from Chrysalis Partners, a Houston-based corporate consulting agency.

Beeton requested information about the survey after learning about it in a meeting of the port’s executive committee, a wharves board sub-committee that includes her, Rees, Trustee Todd Sullivan and Galveston City Manager Brian Maxwell.

In an interview Friday, Beeton said she didn’t know about the consultant until the committee meeting and wanted Rees to provide copies of communications with the consultants and in particular wanted more information about the consultant’s suggestion that the board participate in a “facilitated work session” to address a “perceived misalignment” between port staff and the wharves board.

That sounded like something that would cost money, Beeton said.

“There were no questions asked about the board, yet one of the solutions was that we needed to get alignment between the board and the administration,” Beeton said. “The thing that I was looking for was how did we get from this employee survey, which is a standard employee survey, to a recommendation from the consultant that we need to get the board and the administration ‘aligned.’”

The Wharves Board of Trustees did not vote to hire Chrysalis, officials said.

Rees hired the group — which on its website advertises its ability to build “an inspired future” by hosting a “combination of strategic leadership sessions, coaching, capacity building programs and practices” — under a port rule that allows him to enter into contracts of up to $50,000 without the board’s approval.

Beeton made the request for the correspondence in an email on March 21, three days after the executive committee meeting. On March 24, Rees told Beeton he would not provide her with the emails because they contained raw data and confidential responses from port employees.

Beeton in response, asked Rees to send the information to Tony Brown, the port’s attorney, so any confidential information could be redacted and then shared. Rees refused again and told Beeton he would release the documents only if directed to by the entire board.

Rees’ request came less than 72 hours before the wharves board’s scheduled meeting on March 26 and was not on that meeting’s agenda. However, on March 25, Rees emailed Beeton, promising to release all of the information to the board during a meeting the next day. He repeated that promise to board members again during a break in that March 26 board meeting.

That didn’t happen. Instead, on March 27, Rees directed a port employee to write to the Texas Attorney General’s Office seeking a ruling on whether the documents would have to be released.

AN AG CHALLENGE

The Daily News obtained a copy of the March 27 letter, written by Laura Camcioglu, the port’s director of administration, from the attorney general’s office.

Camcioglu wrote the port’s administration wanted to withhold the records because the “port requested our employees’ honesty/candid response so we could understand ongoing issues in order to address them.”

“Because of such, we committed to anonymity and confidentiality,” Camcioglu said.

Appeals to the attorney general are a common tactic used by government entities wanting to withhold documents under the state’s open records laws. However, unlike typical appeals, Camcioglu’s letter did not cite a part of Texas law that would allow Rees to withhold the documents.

The appeal struck a nerve among board members, and wharves board Chairman Ted O’Rourke on March 29 called for a special meeting for April 3. The board’s agenda item called for a vote about ordering Rees to turn over the documents.

“It was poor, their request, they didn’t cite any exceptions because they didn’t have a lawyer do it or anyone who had any background with open records,” Beeton said. “They submitted this to the attorney general and they said ‘We didn’t want to turn it in because it’s sensitive, but they didn’t provide any exceptions to the open records law.”

EXPLANATION

The special meeting and the potential public confrontation never happened. It was canceled on April 1.

On Thursday, April 4, Rees told The Daily News he turned over the documents to avoid prolonging the disagreement. By that point, Brown had already told him and the wharves board members that Beeton had a right to see the documents — and that Rees had no standing to challenge releasing them.

“My understanding is that she was acting in her capacity as the chair of the board’s executive committee,” Brown said in an interview. “It’s my personal legal opinion, which was conveyed to staff that a request like this for records by a trustee acting in her official capacity was not covered by the Public Information Act.”

Still, Rees defended his decision to try to withhold the documents, saying it was an attempt to keep a promise he had made to port employees to keep the documents confidential.

“When I first came here, I just got a sense that the morale from employees was low,” he said. “We had told employees when we started to do this to please be honest with us and that information would be kept confidential. We’re just trying to make this port a better place to work.”

Rees said he couldn’t cite examples of comments by port employees that made him concerned about an individual being identified and embarrassed, and said there were no plans to have Chrysalis hold a facilitated workshop.

Rees also said part of his hesitation was that he was taken aback by the suddenness of Beeton’s request for information about the consulting contact. Both he and Beeton also noted that, before coming to Galveston, Rees worked as mostly a chief financial officer who did not often have to act on public records requests.

It’s unclear what fallout, if any, there will be from Rees’ resistance to turning over the records.

Rees was hired by the wharves board in January 2018, and has been lauded publicly for his work in getting projects moving, including signing a memorandum of understanding with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines to build a $100 million cruise terminal.

Beeton met with Rees on Friday and said her concerns about the records fight had been “mollified.” Although after reviewing emails between Rees and the consultants she had originally requested, she could not identify information that should have been considered confidential, she said.

O’Rourke said he was disappointed that it took a long time to resolve the issue, and said the board would talk about its records policies at an upcoming meeting.

He also expected trustees to ask Rees for more information about the consultants he has hired and what they’ve been directed to do, O’Rourke said.

“I’m puzzled why there was all this resistance,” O’Rourke said. “If a trustee asks for something, you have to get her what’s available.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(18) comments

Jarvis Buckley

I have to say this comes as quite a surprise. Hopefully Galvestons
Port Director won't make a mistake like this again. I think the present wharves board is the best in many years. Mr. O'Rourke has the calm leadership & necessary knowledge
to lead the board. Mrs. Beeton is the eyes of Galveston residents. She has the ability to sense when something isn't quite right . Ask Steve Leblanc
former city manager. Ask the RDA board. Port is moving in a good direction port director hopefully learned a lesson that won't happen again. If it does he needs to move on.

Bill Cochrane

I commend Rees for trying to keep a promise of confidentially to the port employees. Problem is, that promise should not have been made without approval of the Board. There are a few things to be learned here. One is that even though Rees is allowed to spend $50,000 without permission of the Board, he should send a memo to each member notifying them the cost and details. In life, that’s called CYA or CYB (Cover Your Butt). Now, everyone is p’d off. The Board because they were blind-sided. The port employees because their confidential responses will be read by the people they may have complained about, and possibly by the general public via the GCDN. Rees who will have to break a promise to his employees. Only in Galveston.

Ron Shelby

The board has ultimate fiduciary responsibility for anything and everything at the port. They should not micro manage because they aren’t responsible for day to day operations, but they should be given all information requested at any time, without question. I don’t see any issue with making it a majority board request, or redacting who made certain comments. But, trying to do an “end run” to leave your bosses in the dark should, at minimum, result in disciplinary action and doesn’t bode well for the future of that working relationship.

Lucille Rees

Since a report was to be generated out of the information obtained, releasing the “raw data” did not seem appropriate. My husband went to bat to protect the confidentiality of port employees. He did not seek an ‘end run’ but clarification from a higher authority in the necessity of breaking a committment to the staff.
This is very slanted against my husband who was only trying to defend the confidentiality of the port employees.
This article seems to be making a mountain out of a molehole by portraying the port director as acting underhandedly. This simply is not true.
This article is a result of the Notice for the call of a public meeting to disclose documents that had already been produced. That is the truth.
My husband and I do not believe that unnecessary public attacks are beneficial to the ongoing success of the port or the community as a whole.

Don Schlessinger

"My husband and I do not believe that unnecessary public attacks are beneficial to the ongoing success of the port or the community as a whole." Now we know who actually runs the port---and wears the pants.

Rusty Schroeder

" On Mar. 25, Rees emailed Beeton, promising to release all of the information to the board during a meeting the next day. He repeated that promise to board members again during a break in that Mar. 26 board meeting. That did not happen. Instead, on March 27, Rees directed a port employee to write to the Texas Attorney General's Office seeking a ruling on whether the documents would have to be released ". That Mrs. Rees is the definition of an "end run", as well as lying through your teeth. I don't see anyone attacking your husband, just reporting the facts. If truth be told, the GCDN and most people usually hold your husband in high acclaim for his accomplishments. I don't think he needs you making excuses for something he obviously did, and gets paid very well to do.

Jarvis Buckley

Let's see tell me again who owns the Port?..... Oh taxpayers, that's right!

- -

Actually and surprisingly, the port is sustained by grants and earned revenue. No taxpayer dollars are used to fund port activities.

George Croix

Double Dash.........interesting name.
Hey, Kevin...there's another one................[beam][beam]

Bill Cochrane

Lucille, please tell your co-director that he made a big mistake listed in my remarks above, AND by taking on Beeton and O'Rourke. Those two are not going to take this lightly.

George Croix

Good point you made, Bill.
At any job I ever had, and especially when I WAS the boss, I made sure my boss didn't get sucker punched and insisted that I not be, either, whether I was going to like what was told to me, or whether I was the one keeping the Boss' head up.
I WOULD advise anyone who would purport to be a leader that even bad news or personally damning words aimed at them is WAAAY better than no feedback at all, and using it to get back at whomever said it is a mark of really lousy leadership....imo....anyone can be political and toss a punch but it takes the ability to take a punch to be a leader.....
We learn more that we just might need to know from people who disagree with or even openly dislike us than from those mum or worse, kissing up...

Lucille Rees

Rodger is not ‘taking on’ anyone. He has great respect and admiration for Mrs Beeton.
This article is very slanted and some of the comments seem to be trying to create a divide. No, Thank You.
Good day, Sir.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Well, it sounds like the bloom is off the rose... Also, we should probably give Mrs. Rees a one-time pass. She is new holding a high-profile position on this Island and leaping to the defense of her husband is understandable, if ill-advised.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Apologies all, it appears that "one-time" will not be sufficient...

Donald Glywasky

I feel compelled to comment on the following line in the story...
"Appeals to the attorney general are a common tactic used by government entities wanting to withhold documents under the state’s open records laws."
These "appeals" to the attorney general are not a tactic; that is the procedure spelled out in the Open Records Act to assert a privelege. Whether that procedure was well used in this instance is a different topic.

Lisa Blair

Ms Rees ought not to engage in tit for tat, especially when she’s not defending her own actions. Let Mr. Rees be a professional and account for his own actions.

Jarvis Buckley

Ms. Rees with the exception of this glitch. Your husband has done a fantastic job from what I have read.
I'm sure everything is going to be alright. I like that you are a fighter for
your husband. After all who knows him better than you. Rest well. Tomorrows another day. Suns gonna come up in the east go done in the west. As it goes down I reccomend you two have a glass of wine & watch the beautiful sunset. Like it's been said. Only in Galveston.

Lucille Rees

Sir, I have cancelled my subscription to this paper (sadly, as I have always taken the most local paper since I was in college) and I continue to remember your nice comment. Thus, I am logging in one last time to thank you for your kindness. It has not been forgotten.
My kindest personal regards, L Rees

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