By Juan Montoya
When we requested information on payments made by the city to vendor Diane Dillard, we got a rambling discourse from City Asst. Attorney Allison Bastian – probably under direction from contract attorney Mark Sossi – to the effect that the city did not consider what work she performed a matter of public information.
This legal eagle didn't just make public information law on the fly, but she also chose to ignore our second request which read so:
2. "all responses to city RFPs (Requests For Production(?) (sic) Proposals from vendor Diane Dillard."
According to Bastian, the crack legal team over at the city thinks that "as the Professional Services Procurement Act does not apply to the solicitation of legal services, and state law provides no particular procedure for obtaining such services, the city has nothing in response to Item 2."
Well, now, last time that we checked with the city's purchasing department, they told us that there was a set procedure for contracting professional services. That includes legal, architectural, engineering, etc. services provided by professionals.
It goes something like this: The city drafts the specifications of the job it wants performed, it advertises it through a local newspaper of general circulation, the Internet, the Texas Bid Pool, and awaits the responses. It then receives the sealed responses, tabulates the proposals, staff makes its recommendations and the final decision is left to the city commission.
Well, Bastian decided to opine that the city would not deign to respond on whether the city had received any responses from Ms. Dillard on the real-estate transactions for which she was paid a pretty penny. In other words, she was given the contract to do legal real-estate work based on what?
Much speculation has centered on this question, with one commentator basically asserting (which we do not) that there was a clandestine meeting involving the mayor and a federal judge at one of their homes where a deal was cut to steer business her way in return for leniency from the bench with the mayor's son.
Other than this information based on hearsay, we don't go that far.
All we were asking was for the responses that the city had from Ms. Dillard – who happens to be married to federal judge Andrew Hanen – for any Request For Proposals for legal services.
If there were none, the city though Bastian could have said so.
"The city does have invoices from Ms. Dillard which address item 1," Bastian wrote. "We are releasing those to you in redacted form; it is however, the city's position that portions of these items are subject to withholding exceptions pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act. The city is therefore seeking the opinion regarding the redaction of these portions. Should the Attorney General subsequently rule the items you seek may be released, we will do so at that time."
In other words, Bastian and the city are taking the position that the public does not have the right to demand to know how their money is spent and how much was paid and for what purpose to any vendor, specifically one for legal services. At most, this will only buy them time before the Attorney General overrules their objections and they order city attorneys to release the information.
It is noteworthy that the invoices handed by Dillard to the city were addressed "The City of Brownsville, c/o Mayor Tony Martinez" and not to the city's Finance of Legal Department for approval.
The invoices were approved by City Manager Charlie Cabler.
Both invoices submitted to the city by Dillard were dated August 1, 2013.
The first covered the period from November 12, 2012 to July 31, 2013 for which she charged 44.25 hours and was paid $11,062. The invoices' section dealing with "services" was blackened out entirely and does not state the services she rendered for payment, although there were 32 instances for which she was paid.
The second invoice – also dated August 1, 2013 – covered the period from January 17, 2013 to July 31, 2013 and has 45 instances when she charged for work performed in as many days. Those 45 charges totaled 92.25 hours for which she was paid $23,062.50 for a total of both invoices of $34,124.50.
Both invoices have been blacked out in the spaces where Dillard describes the work she performed for the city payments.
In her letter to the Attorney General, Bastian says "Diane Dillard is a local real estate attorney representing the city on certain real estate matters."