It sure looks like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has abandoned the public’s right to know.
And today Judge Karen Crump in Austin put a judicial seal of approval on what could quickly become a new era of secrecy.
Texas taxpayers should demand something different.
This particular fight was about Cypress Creek EMS, the contractor for 911 service for 600,000 Harris County Residents. ESD #11, the elected government safety agency, lets CCEMS keep every penny of the money they make from the ambulance bills, even though it is the taxpayers who authorize the ambulance to go, and the money is used to defray the cost of the government service. Taxpayers then pay another $10 million dollars in taxes to support CCEMS, paying the salaries of the paramedics who responds and the dispatchers who send them. You should find out if that is the system used where you live.
The Texas Attorney General told CCEMS they had to show the records of their use of tax money when Dolcefino Consulting requested them. Just like Texas has worked for decades.
CCEMS filed suit against the Texas Attorney General, refusing to let taxpayers see who benefited from the tax dollars. Dolcefino Consulting joined in to help fight for the public right to see who got their money.
Sounds pretty simple, right? Not in Texas anymore.
Last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in another case that the Greater Houston Partnership wasn’t a governmental body just because it got a little money from government contracts. Since then, the Attorney General has folded its “public right to know “tent, regardless of how much public money it is involved, or even how critical it is to the people getting it.
Dolcefino Consulting argued that volunteer fire and ambulance services are different, because they provide a critical government service, have an exclusive contract with the government and without the government contract they wouldn’t have any right to send a 911 ambulance at all.
In the CCEMS case, the Texas Attorney General abandoned the fight for taxpayers, and instead joined the guys who take your money and want to keep it secret. Makes you proud doesn’t it?
In court this week, the Assistant Attorney General argued CCEMS could find another way to make money if they didn’t have all your tax money. CCEMS
Lawyer Andrew McKinney told Judge Crump they could go to neighborhoods between Tomball and Humble and get volunteer contributions put on water bills.
They would make 4 million dollars a year.
We say go for it. But read the law first.
The legislature created the ESD’s to provide 911 ambulance service, and CCEMS likely wouldn’t have the legal authority to answer the 911 calls without the government contract. It wouldn’t matter how they get the money.
That same fight is already happening in the Katy area.
Harris County Commissioners better wake up, because as the county has grown the budgets for these volunteer fire and ambulance services have exploded. They aren’t just folks running to the call of the bell. They are becoming huge bureaucracies.
Why should taxpayers be forced to pay money for a service they have no right to question? Beats us.
Here is a message to Attorney General Paxton. You have done taxpayers wrong.
Judge Karen Crump had a chance to fix it. She didn’t.
Of course, there was never anything stopping CCEMS from voluntarily showing their records, especially to the elected safety commissioners who are supposed to watchdog their contract. They refused. Yet they always want more of your money.
Next week, CCEMS will be back in another court, trying to quash a subpoena from the Harris County District Attorney for refusing to release charity records.
ESD #11 could have joined the fight for taxpayers right to know. They didn’t.
Maybe that is a symptom of the real problem. Some of the people elected to police the 911 contract in ESD #11 may have been helped into office by CCEMS officials and their friends. One never even filed required election reports, yet no one stopped him. What a cozy deal!
Maybe that is why the FBI is now investigating, and records are being taken to a federal grand jury.
Taxpayers should explore an election to roll back taxes. CCEMS apparently doesn’t need your money, and they are willing to spend money they could have spent on medical supplies fighting the public right to know instead.
“The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know”.
That is one of the first paragraphs in the Texas Public Information Act.
Maybe our Texas Attorney General should take another look at it sometime.