AG Opinion backs City

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

Almost three months after the initial open records request was submitted to the City of Liberty Hill by The Independent, the Texas Attorney General (AG) ruled that the information requested falls under attorney-client privilege and may be kept from the public.

The AG opinion, received by The Independent last week and dated Dec. 19, claims that the City sufficiently documented why the information in question was protected under attorney-client privilege.

“You state the submitted information consists of communications involving attorneys for the city and city employees and officials in their capacities as clients. You state these communications were made in furtherance of the rendition of professional legal services to the city. You state these communications were intended to be, and have remained, confidential. Based on your representations and our review, we find you have demonstrated the applicability of the attorney-client privilege to the submitted information. Accordingly, the city may withhold the submitted information under section 552.107(1) of the government Code.”

The City sought the AG opinion in response to the newspaper’s request resulting from a City Council agenda item that called into question the actions of Mayor Rick Hall. No issues have been raised since, as the information request made its way through the legal process.

The Sept. 24 agenda item made public council concerns about the conduct of Hall, raising serious questions about what may have transpired to initiate the discussion.

The mysterious agenda item on the Sept. 24 agenda specifically mentioned Hall, stating “Discuss and consider reports against Mayor Hall for explosive conduct, inappropriate language, intimidating conduct and for threatening behavior toward a City Council member and staff.”

The item was moved to closed session, and not discussed in public following the closed-door meeting. No action was taken by the Council.

On Sept. 26, The Independent filed the open records request, seeking “any records or correspondence that document what caused the item to be placed on the agenda, and records or correspondence since that time related to the agenda item.”

The request was passed on to City Attorney Dottie Palumbo at that time and the Bojorquez Law Firm then requested the Ag opinion on whether the requested information should be provided.

In the firm’s brief to the Attorney General, the request stated, “The City believes that the information responsive to this request is confidential and excepted from public release and therefore requests a decision as to whether the responsive documents are excepted from disclosures pursuant to the following exceptions: Confidential Information; and Certain Legal Matters.”

Though not definitively tied to the initial agenda item posted on Sept. 24, the Council voted unanimously Oct. 8 to adopt a resolution to “provide a safe workplace and harassment free workplace environment.”

Palumbo explained the ordinance and said there had been an incident, but did not specify what it was or who was involved.

“The city, as an employer, has the duty to ensure employees have a safe workplace and harassment-free environment,” Palumbo said. “There has been an incident in the workplace, there has been an apology, but this resolution allows the city to go on the record that it doesn’t have a custom, policy or practice of permitting this kind of conduct in the workplace and asks for any offender to apologize and follow these procedures.”

While the resolution reiterates behavior expectations spelled out in the employee handbook, it ends by requesting “any Mayor or council member that has violated the City of Liberty Hill’s policies as stated in the Employee Handbook shall immediately provide a written public apology.”

No specific apology from anyone on the Council was presented or discussed. Nothing related to the Sept. 24 agenda item or the Ethics Ordinance have been discussed since.

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