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