Pharr seeks AG’s opinion in efforts to keep consultant contract secret

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The city of Pharr is requesting an opinion from the Texas Attorney General in an attempt to block the release of the consulting contract between the city and former city manager Ed Wylie.

Edward M. Wylie

Wylie had served as the city of Pharr’s deputy city manager before retiring in April.

Prior to his retirement and subsequent consultant contract, Wylie was accused of workplace sexual harassment. The information was made public after the city of Pharr ​​filed a lawsuit on Jan. 18 in Travis County against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, requesting that the information about the accusations be withheld following at least two Texas Public Information Act requests.

During the May 15 city commission meeting, Pharr commissioners entered into executive session to discuss an agenda item “authorizing City Manager to negotiate and enter into consulting agreement with Edward Wylie.”

The agenda item was then unanimously approved.

The Monitor requested the contract through public records Thursday, June 8, requesting a copy of the consultant contract between Wylie and the city, as well as any other documents related to the contract.

The city responded to the request with a copy of the letter sent to Paxton on June 21, asking the AG’s office to make a decision about the city’s request to shield the contract from public view.

In the letter, the city cited Section 552.104 of the Texas Public Information Act, which allows information from being disclosed if it gives an “advantage to a competitor or bidder.”

The letter goes on to claim that the release of the requested information would place the city at a competitive disadvantage in procuring future contracts, purchases and deals.

“Your office has previously held that the release of the submitted information would give advantage to a competitor or bidder; therefore, the city must withhold the submitted information under section 552.104(a) of the Government Code (OR2017-27832),” the letter read.

That section, however, was changed after the Texas legislature in 2019 passed Senate Bill 943, which was bi-partisan legislation that closed what many perceived was a loophole in the code that allowed government agencies to keep public contracts secret.

This change was prompted by The Monitor’s reporting that sought the amount of money the city of McAllen paid Enrique Iglesias for performing at the 2015 holiday parade.

The city used the section of the code in question to block the release of the contract between Iglesias and McAllen.

But after SB 943 went into effect, McAllen officials released the contract in January 2020, showing that the city paid Iglesias $485,000 and had also chartered a flight to fly Iglesias from Guadalajara to McAllen in addition to paying for 24 hotel rooms for two nights, as well as covering the bill for the show’s sound, lighting, special effects and a runway.

“… (D)espite the changes, it is the City’s position that because this information does not relate an expenditure of public funds for a parade, concert, or other entertainment event, but instead to a business prospect that the City brought to the City and seeks to successfully keep that business in the city, subsection (c) of 552.104 does not require the release of the responsive documents,” the city of Pharr stated in its letter to the AG, and also cited other sections and decisions supporting similar arguments.

Pharr Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez has not responded to a request for comment as of press time.