The city of Galveston should, just for its own sake, perhaps, but also for the public good, release the draft of a proposed agreement that would change the relationship between it and the Park Board of Trustees.

The city would be well within its rights under the Texas Open Records Act to withhold the document, because it is a draft and draft documents are explicitly exempted from disclosure.

The city is not, however, forbidden from disclosing this or any other draft. It can if it wants to, but it’s not required by law to withhold such documents.

There are all kinds of good reasons that draft documents might be withheld, which is why the law allows governments to do so, even though the documents belong to the public, not the government.

Preventing a lot of turmoil about proposals that might not survive negotiation, is one example. Another is that the government’s and, by extension, the public’s interest might be undermined by disclosing a draft that’s part of an adversarial negotiation.

It’s hard to see how any of those reasonable concerns are at issue in this case, though.

For one thing, the draft already has caused a lot of turmoil. That’s true not just among the public at large. Park board staff members and trustees, who the city council has judged to have the standing and sense to be appointed to those important posts, are worried, and, in more than one case, angry about what they think the draft agreement proposes.

Sober, reasonable people already have formed hard opinions that the changes proposed in the document would sharply curtail the park board’s autonomy. They judge it to be part of a city campaign to marginalize that organization to gain greater control over the hotel tax revenue it traditionally has managed.

Those are the same fears that have been swirling around a review of city assets the park board and Port of Galveston have been tasked and empowered to manage. People in that camp of the worried have seen the asset review as adversarial since before it started.

City leaders argue the asset review is not adversarial, but is collegial, and all those well documented fears are unfounded; that the review is a review, plain and simple, and the proposed changes are mostly mundane and beneficial to the city, the park board, residents and visitors, all of which have stakes in the outcome.

Whether the fears about the asset review and the draft document are well founded or not, they do exist and not just among insiders who might be inclined to apply some political spin in the interest, perhaps, of protecting turf.

If the controversy isn’t a result of spin, then it might be a result of simple misunderstanding.

Whatever the source, the best way to clear it all up is for the city to release the document and let everyone see for themselves what it proposes.

• Michael A. Smith

(8) comments

Mark Stevens

Agree totally.
The sheltering of "draft" documents in the Open Records Act was probably meant to shelter negotiations between governmental units and private contractors. This is different. Governmental Units are on both sides of the deal.
Moreover, such documents tend to be lengthy and full of details, in which reside the proverbial "Devils". Last minute disclosure does not serve the public, whose members deserve time to study the proposal.
When it comes to good government, sunshine always beats darkness, shadows, and things done in a corner.
Mark W. Stevens

Charlotte O'rourke

If the city wanted absolute control .... wouldn’t the city just abolish the Park Board or remove all city owned properties from its management via ordinance?

The PB is not totally autonomous and separate from the city. It has always had to negotiate with the city to manage city assets .... as would a private contractor.

I’m still trying to understand this controversy, but it is difficult because the only example given by the newspaper is where the city (not PB) already controls capital expense approval and it appears the PB doesn’t like that requirement.

Whether the document is released during ACTIVE negotiations is a city decision. But, I disagree that both governmental entities are on the same side .... they appear to be at cross purposes, and the PB is trying to get reinforcements to protect what they consider their turf and don’t really want city input or transparency on a $25 million pavilion at Stewart Beach or potentially on any other city owned capital project?

I’m still waiting to hear a rational argument on why the PB doesn’t want city approval for capital projects on city owned assets.

Until I hear a valid argument, I support the city position.

Jarvis Buckley

As in most cases I agree with Ms. O'Rourke. Her thoughts aren't controversial . They are practical.

Raymond Lewis

Per the enabling legislation, it would not be in the best interest of the city to abolish the Park Board. Something else seems to be going on here that I can't get my head around.

Charlotte O'rourke

Hi Raymond, Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family!

No one that I’ve heard - in recent years - has suggested abolishing or diminishing the Parks Board.

But, there seems to be confusion on what enabling legislation does as printed in recent PB articles. The enabling legislation doesn’t require a city to create a Park Board (PB) nor to keep one nor to require the PB to manage city assets.

The legislation just allows a PB to be created by a city ordinance. Our ordinance was created on August 22, 1963. It has changed many times over the years, and facilities have been added and deleted from PB management by the city. There have been many interlocal agreements (contracts) .... I’m sure some have been better negotiated by the city than others.

The Park Board gave a very professional presentation during the joint city meeting. There didn’t seem to be major issues and everyone stressed city participation, but someone is obviously bringing issues forward to the newspaper during contractual negotiations with the city.

I haven’t seen the draft contract nor heard anything other than what is printed, but hope the city negotiates good terms for the citizens of Galveston.

Maybe the current council has higher expectations than past councils .... I don’t know.

If you find out the real scoop, I would be interested in hearing it.


Raymond Lewis

Thanks Charlotte.
I''ve heard it said and saw it written more times than a few; abolishing the park board that is.

Charlotte O'rourke

Advocating abolishment or just general philosophical discussion of whether it could be? I think philosophical discussion (not advocating) is common after articles like the recent “draft agreement gives city more control of PB” .... where it was stated the Park Board was created by state legislation and the city might be violating state law by wanting more control in its interlocal management agreement.

But I haven’t heard serious advocating abolishment since about 2007\2008. Hope the city and PB work out their issues as I don’t think stricter standards and more city input is a bad thing, and believe the city, PB, and public would benefit.

I’m not sure where the misinformation of PB creation by state law was started but hopefully it will be corrected as the GDN stated the history of the board was coming in future editions.

Ron Shelby

Releasing a “draft”: what an absolutely foolish thing to suggest.

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