City of Pharr withholds public information

    City of Pharr withholds public information

    The importance of transparency is apparent with media institutions, but for some city agencies, it might not be.

    The City of Pharr has had a recent history of withholding public information.

    Concerned parents reached out to CBS 4 last year regarding a closed gym that was used by the Boys and Girls Club of Pharr.

    “We ask you city leaders why this building was approved in the first place?” a concerned citizen said at a Pharr city commissions meeting last year.

    The gym remained closed, because according to the city, it was not under compliance because of, “an accessory door that is required by law,” mentioned Mayor Ambrosio Hernandez.

    Weeks later, a special meeting was called in October, declaring emergency construction at the gym's location.

    No bidding process was made available. Instead, the emergency repairs were given to John Rigney, President of Rigney Construction.

    A live stream was shown of a City of Pharr correspondent and John Rigney on site closing off the gym before commissioners approved the contract for Rigney in executive session at that special meeting.

    When CBS 4 learned Patricia Rigney, the City Attorney was related to the contractor John Rigney, we submitted a public records request.

    On January 16, 2019, a request was sent to the City of Pharr to release all the contracts between the city and Rigney construction in the year 2018. As well as all electronic communication between any City of Pharr employee or elected official with Rigney Construction.

    The contract was made available to us but the communication between them was not. The city, wanting to keep that information secret, asked the Attorney General’s office to withhold the requested information.

    “Those emails and discussion ought to be public too,” mentioned Kelley Shannon with Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

    Shannon says when taxpayer money is being spent, transparency and openness is crucial.

    "Maybe a situation where a government not wanting to release all the details it should to the public about how taxpayer money is being spent," said Shannon.

    The letter stating: "Communications between the city’s legal counsel, which includes City Attorney Patricia Rigney, John Rigney, legal counsel for the City of Pharr and outside legal counsel for the City of Pharr to include Chris Franz. While John Rigney owns Rigney Construction, the communication in which he was involved in, was in his capacity as legal counsel for the City of Pharr, and not as contractor."

    Recently, this hasn’t been the only attempt the city has tried to withhold information from the media. Earlier this year, they refused to release the salary for the new city manager (Alex Meade) to a freelance reporter.

    He wrote about it. Then hours later, the city announced it was releasing the information not because the reporter asked for it. But instead, "in the interest of continuing its commitment to transparency."

    When both of these instances have shown otherwise, this week is Sunshine Week, highlighting the importance of the public’s right to know.

    Anyone can request information from their local government, not just media members.

    If you want to submit a request from your local government, it may vary, either on their website, such as the city of Pharr or in person at your City Hall.

    For more information on public information:

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