Dolcefino Consulting has filed a lawsuit against Galena Park Mayor Esmeralda Moya, City Secretary Mayra Gonzales and City Attorney Robert Collins for alleged violations of the Texas Public Information Act (PIA)and the Texas Open Meetings Act. Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting, held a press conference outside the Harris County Courthouse Wednesday, August 18, 2021 to highlight the lawsuit. Also attending were Galena Park Commissioner Maricela Serna and the attorney for Dolcefino Consulting, Jeff Diamant.
The specific allegations contained in the lawsuit are from four separate Public Information Requests and two meetings of City Council in which Mr. Dolcefino alleges that he was not allowed to speak. Here are the alleged PIA violations:
First Request March 17, 2021:
- financial records relating to federal grants received by Galena Park for any natural disasters since January 1, 2017, including Hurricane Harvey;
- minutes from Galena Park City Council meetings since January 1, 2017;
- accounts payable for Galena Park since January 1, 2019;
- expenditures for certain budget accounts since January 1, 2018;
- information relating to Galena Park water customers; and
- information relating to Galena Park’s employees.
Second Request March 19, 2021:
- invoices submitted by the City Attorney since January 1, 2017;
- past due invoices received from Galena Park’s vendors since January 1, 2020;
- internal audits or financial reports prepared for the Galena Park City Council since January 1, 2017;
- information relating to employees of Galena Park, including the names, job titles, and annual salaries of city employees and information relating to city employees who resigned or were fired since January 1, 2017;
- invoices paid to Moya and Primo’s Auto Service by Galena Park since January 1, 2017; and
- information concerning water bills issued by Galena Park since January 1, 2017.
Third Request April 1, 2021:
- itemized expenditures from any grant received by Galena Park since January 1, 2017;
- the titles of Galena Park employees identified in an attachment to the request;
- the general ledger for Galena Park detailing expenditures since January 1, 2019;
- video and audio recordings from Galena Park City Council meetings since January 1, 2020;
- invoices received from the City of Houston for the use of water by Galena Park residents; and
- the publicly releasable portions of the personnel file for Jorge Flores, an employee of Galena Park.
Fourth Request April 12, 2021:
- a copy of all bids for the pool contract; and
- documents reflecting pool employee attendance.
In addition, Mr. Dolcefino alleges that he was muted during the council’s online Zoom meetings held July 6, 2021 and August 3, 2021 and therefore was not allowed to speak to council as required by the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Much of this stuff should be on the city’s website. The problem is that the city’s website is woefully out of date. For instance, it does not show that Maricela Serna is in fact a City Commissioner even though I was able to find the city’s election results on Click2Houston that shows her winning election in 2020. I was unable to find election results on the city’s website and most of the information about city elections was from 2018. Council meeting agendas seem to be up to date but the meeting minutes stop at April 6, 2021.
As a small town mayor, I can relate to the city’s reluctance to provide the information because it is very time consuming. However, it is the law and it has to be done. The governor allowed PIA’s to be delayed because of COVID-19 but that order is lapsed and the timelines are back to normal. It is also normal to sometimes ask the Attorney General for guidance on whether or not certain documents need to be released but we try to err on the side of the requestor, with any personal identifying information redacted. If the allegations in the lawsuit are correct, then it appears that the city simply doesn’t want this stuff released for whatever reason. Dolcefino claims corruption but it could be embarrassment or something else. Regardless, if I were the Mayor of Galena Park, I would release the information.
As for being muted on Zoom calls, no way I would do that. Ask anyone that goes to our meetings and they’ll tell you that I allow everyone to speak, sometimes making my council members upset because the meetings can drag out. And it is especially hard to put up with when it isn’t residents of your city talking and spewing but outsiders like Dolcefino. But again, it is the law and you need to follow it. Even when you don’t like it. Even worse, Commissioner Serna alleged during the press conference that Mayor Moya also muted her during the call and refused to let her participate in council discussions. No possible way I would do that and my council wouldn’t let me mute any of their peers. That is bizarre, if true.
You might ask yourself, why haven’t I seen anything about this in the ‘news’? Well, primarily because we don’t have much in the way of local journalism these days. As Dolcefino told me after the press conference, the media was over at the Rusty Hardin press conference relating to Deshaun Watson. That pretty much sums up the press in Harris County.
You can watch the full press conference here if you choose: