Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit Monday against the City of San Antonio to compel it to release documents related to his office’s investigation into City Council’s decision to remove Chick-fil-A from an airport concession contract.
The City cited 63 exemptions it could use to avoid providing information related to Paxton’s information request, which includes meeting records, emails, calendars, and other internal and third-party communications from City Council members, City staff, and third-parties, according to a letter Deputy City Attorney Edward Guzman sent to Paxton in April.
In a second letter, the City focused on its argument that some information is exempt according to State law because it expects to be sued by the State. The process of citing possible exemptions is part of the typical process when the City receives a request.
“The City of San Antonio claims that it can hide documents because it anticipates being sued,” Paxton said in a news release. “But we’ve simply opened an investigation using the Public Information Act. If a mere investigation is enough to excuse the City of San Antonio from its obligation to be transparent with the people of Texas, then the Public Information Act is a dead letter. The city’s extreme position only highlights its fear about allowing any sunshine on the religious bigotry that animated its decision.”
Paxton launched the investigation in late March after the infamous 6-4 vote based on Councilman Roberto Treviño’s (D1) motion to approve a concessions contract with the requirement that Chick-fil-A be excluded from a list of potential airport restaurants. Treviño stated at the time that he could not support a company with “a legacy of anti-LGBTQ behavior.”
Paxton and others, including mayoral candidate Councilman Greg Brockhouse (D6), said the action violated Chick-fil-A’s religious freedom. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said his vote was a business decision and that he wanted all vendor options open seven days a week. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sundays for religious reasons.
“It is reasonable to surmise that the Office of the Attorney General is actively investigating the City of San Antonio in preparation for possible legal action related to the information being requested,” Guzman wrote. “Allowing the use of the Texas Public Information Act as a means for discovery when litigation is anticipated undermines the litigation process and robs a government entity of its legal protections and reciprocal discovery afforded under state law.”
The Chick-fil-A issue has become a point of contention in the mayoral runoff. Brockhouse has long-criticized City Hall and Nirenberg for issues with transparency and uses the issue to point to a “lack of leadership.” Nirenberg is generally dismissive of accusations claiming they’re “political theater.”
The City’s action, to ask for a ruling on whether the documents were releasable through the Open Records Division of the Attorney General’s office, is a “routine request,” according to a statement sent by the City.
“Instead of allowing the routine process take its course, the AG decided to sue and not wait for a decision from his own department,” City Attorney Andy Segovia said in a statement. “The Attorney General notified the press before any communication with the City, or even before the City was served with the suit.”
The City’s statement noted that it’s unclear what legislative authority the AG’s office is using to investigate the airport contract, and “Furthermore, it is clear from the strident comments in his press release that any ‘investigation’ would be a pretense to justify his own conclusions.”
The City sent almost 250 pages to the Open Records Division, according to the statement, and a decision is still pending.
Paxton cited Chick-fil-A’s affiliation with the Christian faith and “traditional understanding of marriage” as the true reason for its ousting from the San Antonio International Airport.
“Members of the City Council who spearheaded the decision to exclude Chick-fil-A did not attempt to hide their discriminatory motives,” Paxton wrote, noting Treviño’s comment that the company is out of line with “our core values as a city,” and Councilman Manny Pelaez’s comment, which he later retracted, about some people in the community interpreting Chick-fil-A as a “symbol of hate.”