Another Day, Another Metro Press Conference Saying "Us? Shred Important Documents?" (Updated)
(Updated with reaction from Mayor Annise Parker.)
Metro wants us all to know that the recent hub-bub about shredding documents sought by a local attorney through an open records request, and then the alleged cover-up and firing of a pair of attorneys connected to the shredding, is over now. We can all breathe deeply, go home, kiss our kids goodnight and sleep easy.
Metro is nothing but a wonderful, transparent, soon-to-be federally-funded local government operation.
Or so they say. That was certainly the message, though, on Thursday afternoon from Metro board chairman David Wolff when he addressed a blood-thirsty crowd of reporters, most of whom have been running around as if their heads were about to explode at the thought that Metro would have the balls and the gall to fuck with records requested under the state's open records law.
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Wolff said that all of the documents requested by attorney Lloyd Kelley -- which concern travel expenses and e-mails between several Metro higher-ups -- have been compiled and that none of the requested materials have been destroyed.
"The shredding had nothing to do with the Kelley documents," Wolff said.
He was quick to add that he did not know what documents were shredded on Monday.
"I don't think it was anything very important," said Wolff.
Metro will conduct its own investigation into the allegations and to determine what in fact was shredded. Wolff also said that he had sent a letter to Mayor Annise Parker encouraging her to follow through with the idea of having the Harris County DA's office look into the matter.
Metro claims that someone in its legal department called Kelley last Friday, several days before Monday's unauthorized shredding, to let him know that he could pick up all the stuff that he had asked for. Which begs the question, why did Kelley file for and get a temporary restraining order on Wednesday prohibiting Metro from damaging the records he was seeking?
"Well," Kelley's attorney, Michael West, tells Hair Balls, "I don't know who they told on Friday, but they didn't tell Lloyd Kelley. They didn't produce anything until after our lawsuit was filed."
West, who along with the media, received a package allegedly containing all of the documents that Kelley requested, says he has not had time to look through it all to make sure everything is there. But he doubts it. West says he will be seeking to get a forensic accounting of all of Metro's backup records, stored in Arizona, to make sure Metro gave up everything it was supposed to.
"Let's see the truth of the backup documents," says West, "to make sure we really did get everything. I have no reason to trust them."
West says that Kelley only filed for the restraining order after hearing that Metro workers had been shredding papers because he worried it could be the documents he had requested.
As for the alleged cover-up, in which it was reported that Metro's former chief counsel was fired because she voiced concern over the way Kelley's request was being handled, and that another attorney was also let go over actions connected to Kelley's request, Metro again says it's all hog-wash.
Wolff says the former chief counsel was dismissed as part of a decision made last week, long before anyone became aware of any unauthorized shredding. He called the two incidents concerning Kelley's documents and the lawyers "not connected."
All of this comes just weeks before the feds are supposed to give Metro hundreds of millions of bucks to help build additional lines for the city's light rail. It has been reported that Wolff expressed concern to Parker that any public gaffes could endanger the funding.
"We are honest and we are open," Wolff said on Thursday afternoon. "There is no reason why this should effect the federal funding."
Still, it sounds like Kelley will not rest until Metro proves it did not destroy or withhold the info he requested, meaning this is probably long from over.
Update: Mayor Annise parker has issued a statement.
"I have five different transition teams looking at METRO. The agency's cooperation has been slow, if not uncooperative and grudging at times, with the release of requested documents often being delayed. The revelations of the last 24 hours are another indication of the lack of transparency at METRO. I want outside counsel or the district attorney to investigate, and I am moving quickly to replace the city's METRO board appointees so that we can get the agency back on track toward rail expansion."
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