“Minority Contracting Series”
The Dallas Morning News
March 26, 2014
For local governments and one private company, it was a pretty sweet deal.
Local governments created a nonprofit agency to certify minority- and woman-owned businesses, after enduring years of controversy over how they performed that task. Almost all of the agency’s budget was funded with taxpayer dollars. Only board members appointed by local governments had full voting rights.
But the North Central Texas Regional Certification Agency fended off scrutiny of its operations for more than a decade, claiming that it didn’t have to respond to open records requests. The certification process – traditionally a government function – effectively moved offshore.
At the same time, the NCTRCA’s entire staff was provided by a temporary employment firm known as All Temps 1 Personnel. All Temps’ own employees at the NCTRCA certified it as a minority-owned business. They also decided whether or not to certify All Temps’ potential competitors, even as their employer won contracts worth millions from the governments that created the NCTRCA.
That was until Dallas Morning News reporters Ed Timms and Kevin Krause launched a groundbreaking investigation into questionable practices by the NCTRA and All Temps, setting off a legal battle that The News and its attorneys doggedly fought for a year.
The final result: a strong legal precedent confronting other governments from trying to circumvent open records law.
Timms and Krause filed a complaint with the Texas attorney general after the NCTRCA refused to respond to their open records request. The AG ultimately issued a favorable opinion. But even before that happened, the NCTRCA sued to block release of its records. Despite the potential cost, The News aggressively fought the NCTRCA in court.
A year later, a state district judge ruled that the NCTRCA was a “governmental body” for the purposes of open records requests and instructed the agency to release information sought by The News. He wrote that the NCTRCA had failed to demonstrate a compelling reason to withhold the information.
The NCTRCA’s executive director resigned shortly after that ruling. In response to The News investigation and its year-long series of stories, the NCTRCA created a new policy that prevents its staffing company from self-certifying. And All Temps no longer provides the NCTRCA’s staff. For the first time in many years, the agency sought bids on a staffing contract, which was won by another company. Local government officials also have pushed for more reforms, including greater administrative and financial oversight.
Open records law in Texas is stronger because of this investigation and The News’ commitment to the 1st Amendment. Questionable practices by local governments and private companies were exposed. And an agency supported by taxpayer dollars no longer operates in the shadows.
We proudly offer it for your consideration.
LINK to story
Submitted by Keith Campbell.