The Calhoun Port Authority has spent $360,000 in taxpayer money to defend itself against a lawsuit filed by the Victoria Advocate newspaper. The suit alleges the authority violated open-meetings rules during the hiring process of disgraced Congressman Blake Farenthold.
Farenthold left the U.S. House of Representatives last April after former staffers accused him of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. But days after leaving Congress, Fahrenthold announced he’d been hired as a lobbyist by the Calhoun Port Authority, located in the district he once represented.
Farenthold’s hiring caused quite a stir partly because of how quietly it had occurred. The Victoria Advocate tried to investigate the matter, and ended up suing the port authority over what it says were violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The suit claims that the agency didn’t properly notify the public during Farenthold’s hiring. Farenthold has since left his lobbying job, but the lawsuit continues, costing local taxpayers over $360,000 so far.
Jessica Priest is an environment and investigations reporter for the Advocate, and says she came across the legal fees during a port authority board meeting.
“I don’t think it is [a big deal] to them, but I think it has made the taxpayers upset,” Priest says.
Priest says though Farenthold has already stepped down, the Advocate is continuing with the lawsuit to protect the integrity of transparency laws.
“This is the only recourse that the law provides,” Priest says. “The Texas Open Meetings Act isn’t just a suggestion, it’s the law.”
Though she isn’t directly involved with the lawsuit, Priest says she spoke to the paper’s attorney who told her that the Advocate was willing to settle the lawsuit as long as the port authority reposted the meeting according to the rules. She says the port authority could have also rehired Farenthold. The Advocate, she says, is not seeking a cash settlement.
“We just want to stand up for the public and their right to know,” Priest says.
Priest says Farenthold hasn’t responded to the Advocate’s request for comment about his resignation.
The port authority is continuing to fight the lawsuit, and Priest suspects there are financial reasons. Port authority board Chairman Randy Boyd said during a meeting last week that if the port won the lawsuit, it could try to recoup the $360,000 from the Advocate.
Written by Caroline Covington.