The conflict between Port of Galveston Director Rodger Rees and a couple of members of the Wharves Board of Trustees, which governs the public docks, indicate a need for open-government training.

Rees and Trustee Elizabeth Beeton and board Chairman Ted O’Rourke got crossways over Rees’ attempt to withhold documents produced by a consultant Rees had hired to survey port employees about their workplace.

Rees’ attempts to keep the documents away from Beeton included writing the Texas Attorney General’s Office for an opinion about whether the documents could be withheld from trustees.

The conflict never had anything to do with the Texas Open Records Act, however, which is what the attorney general’s office deals with when it issues opinions about public records.

Public officials, those elected and those, like wharves trustees, who are appointed by elected officials, have an absolute right by virtue of their offices to records held by the organizations they oversee. They don’t need to file a formal request as members of the general public can be required to do.

There might be some exceptions to that right, but it’s hard to imagine what they would be, and the work product of a consultant paid with public dollars certainly wouldn’t fall into that arcane category.

The fact that Rees didn’t know that is a little troubling. The port is a large public organization handling lots of public money and operating most of the time in close association with private sector operators that needn’t worry about the public’s rights. All of which is a formula for conflicts such as the one at hand.

If a request for records from a trustee can devolve into conflict, then it’s only a matter of time before a request from the public does too.

Port leaders and employees must be well informed about open government laws, or at least be religious about seeking advice from somebody who is. Neither of which seems to have been the case.

Rees’ explanation for having tried to keep those documents from trustees also indicates a misunderstanding of the transparency required of a public organization.

Rees defended himself by saying he was attempting to keep a promise to port employees that their responses to the survey would be kept confidential. His reluctance to break that promise was understandable, but he never should have made it in the first place because he was writing a check that he just couldn’t cover.

There are ways to protect employee identities in those sorts of surveys. Galveston’s public school district did a massive review years ago and collected reams of employee comments that were frank, to put it mildly, and also anonymous because they had been compiled that way.

Had anybody consulted the board or the port’s attorney before launching the review, this whole brew-up probably could have been avoided.

It appears this fracas, which was microscopic compared to some occurring at the port over the years, will blow over with everyone still intact, which is good because there are so many other important things to get done there.

At the same time, though, the wharves board should hold a meeting, as O’Rourke suggested, to talk about legal requirements and its own expectations about the administration’s openness and transparency. And the wharves board should arrange for port staff members to sit through one of the open-government training sessions the attorney general’s office offers.

• Michael A. Smith

(12) comments

Jarvis Buckley

I believe the Port Director has been taught a lesson he won't soon forget.
Having said that it has appeared since his hiring he has done a great job as Port Director.
But, $50,000 to find out what the port employees "really" think seems
ludicrous to me on first glance.
Years ago at city hall they had a comment box where employees could share their concerns with
City manager without revealing their identity, The cost? Price of the wooden box.
Money don't grow on trees, not even in Galveston.

Rusty Schroeder

Jarvis, at the County of Galveston it is common knowledge that over $500K apparently does grow on trees. Swept away likes fallen leaves by the ones in charge of the tree. :)

Don Schlessinger

[thumbup]

Jim Casey

The idea that the port directors don't have a right to see documents that they pay to create is absurd—as you rightly point out.

The only conclusion that I can jump to is that this survey of employee attitudes revealed information that is damaging to the port director.

Anyone who asks employees for a frank opinion of management had better be ready for the worst, because employees are not easily deceived.

George Croix

Actually, the best way to find out what folks think is free...no money involved at all, but it takes a while...
First, you must get a rep with the folks as someone with a real open door policy and who keeps ALL interchanges and conversations confidential.
Second, you go talk with the folks, face to face, on their ground.....

Then you can relay the feelings of your direct reports with accuracy but without individual ID.
There is nothing so valuable to a supervisor as honest feedback from people who know you will let them speak their real mind......

Don Schlessinger

IMO it's time to move on. Aside from this stumble Mr. Rees has done a very good job at bringing the port to profitability after years of mediocre performance. There are times when we all have made mistakes with unintended results. Thankfully we get to move on never to make the same mistake. Now is the time to let that happen and allow the port director to do the job we hired him for.

Jarvis Buckley

👍

Lucille Rees

Immediately prior to the release of documents, Rees sought independent counsel from a Texas attorney familiar with the Port of Galveston. Counsel researched case law and verbally advised Rees to release the documents.
The attorney did this pro bono as a personal favor to Rees.
Satisfied with counsel’s advice, Rees released the documents. End of story.
No, wait ...
AFTER the documents were produced, the Chairman publicly posted a Notice of Public Meeting. Please see the agenda, which goes something like this:
Item #1 Discuss the release of documents
Item #2 Confirm receipt of documents
This Notice remained posted for days.

The meeting was cancelled for lack of necessity.

Yet, here is the second scathing article about the Port Director who went to great lengths to protect his employees AND TO DO THE RIGHT THING.
Nice 👍

Lisa Blair

Bad form, Lucille. Taxpayers didn't hire you and it's unprofessional to speak on behalf of your spouse in the context of his public sector employment. You should stop now.

Bill Cochrane

Lucille, The last post yesterday, before yours this morning, was in praise of your husband suggesting that all move on. My ole daddy always said " if you keep stirring it, it will continue to stink. If you let it lay, it will dry up and blow away".
But you insist on keeping it stirred up?

George Croix

An important life skill is learning to take yes for an answer....[wink]

Jarvis Buckley

Ms. Rees you can't fight a Newspaper that buys ink by the barrel with your smart phone. Time to relax. Let this go. Just an old mans advice.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thank you for Reading!

Please log in, or sign up for a new account and purchase a subscription to read or post comments.