In response to a public records request made by mayoral candidate Bill King, the city is asking for $2.8 million to access records on how Mayor Sylvester Turner unilaterally approved roughly $400 million in contracts.
The issue sparked a few months ago when it came to light that Turner approved $400 million in contracts under the city’s provision allowing him to bypass council approval for contracts less than $50,000. A similar rule is in effect in Houston ISD and has, in the past, led to allegations of bid splitting or breaking up a contract into smaller amounts to bypass scrutiny.
“In January, we got a tip from a City employee that Turner was aggressively using this rule to benefit some of his cronies and that if we were to file an Open Records request for those contracts, we would find some very ‘interesting’ expenditures,” King wrote on his blog.
King made the request and the City Attorney sent a letter saying, “the cost of copying the contracts would be $2.8 million and if we would send over a check for 50% of that amount, they would begin copying the contracts.”
The response told them that it would take 75 employees working full-time, for an entire year, to produce the document. That’s 155,000 hours.
King believes it is an attempt by Turner to keep the contract from public view.
In response, he says he will be announcing an ethics and transparency plan that would go into effect if elected. Included in the plan is creating a searchable index for every city contract.