Baker hotel lobby

The lobby of the Baker Hotel in its current condition. A $65 million historic restoration project has begun.

In its effort to protect from public release information concerning the Baker Hotel the City of Mineral Wells has filed suit against the Texas Attorney General’s Office challenging portions of a recent open records ruling.

City council last month directed legal counsel Messer, Rockefeller & Fort to challenge in court an AG opinion that centers around an open records request made May 6 former city councilman Clif Wright.

Wright petitioned the city seeking “emails from the past City Manager (Lance Howerton), acting City Manager that replaced Mr. Howerton, and current City Manager for the past two years (2019, 2018) to the City Council related to the Hotel being proposed to be restored. The Hotel is better known as the Baker Hotel that currently as several blue signs around it showing the history of Mineral Wells.”

This is the original petition filed by the City of Mineral Wells in a Travis County district court challenging a Texas Attorney General's opin…

The city’s legal counsel requested a ruling from the AG’s office on the request, citing mainly exceptions to disclosure under Texas Government Code 552.111 under the Public Information Act dealing with release of certain interagency or intra-agency memorandums or letters, and statute 552.131 dealing with information related to economic development negotiations between a governmental body and a business prospect involving “a trade secret of the business prospect; or commercial or financial information for which it is demonstrated based on specific factual evidence that disclosure would cause substantial competitive harm to the person from whom the information was obtained.”

The AG’s office in late July ruled that some of the information requested by Wright could be withheld by the city, but ruled some documents that fell under the open records request should be released.

No documents have been released pursuant to Wright’s request, according to an attorney with Messer, Rockefeller & Fort. The Index requested copies of any documents released under Wright’s original open records request and was told there were none.

The lawsuit, filed Aug. 27 in Travis County’s 250th District Court, asks the court to overturn in full the AG’s ruling concerning the release of documents and information and to reimburse the city’s legal costs should the city prevail in the litigation.

“The City contests this finding with respect to the documents the Attorney General requires the City to release,” the lawsuit states in part. “The City does not contest the ruling with respect to the documents the City is allowed to withhold. The City contends that the requested documents include information that is subject to sections 552.111 and 552.131 of the PIA. The Attorney General’s opinion, OR2019-20667, should therefore be withdrawn in part.”

This is the letter from the Texas Attorney General's Office in response to a request for opinion from the City of Mineral Wells pertaining to …

Under law the AG’s office has 10 days to respond to the lawsuit. The Index has requested from Travis County that response if, and when, filed.

Hotel developers, investors and city officials have been operating under a non-disclosure agreement signed by all directly involved parties, except for Mayor Christopher Perricone who has declined to sign the agreement, and therefore has been excluded from participating in those closed door meetings or receiving documents and information related to the estimated $65 million project, said to be the largest renovation of a historic property in the state’s history.

The NDA reportedly makes confidential information generated prior to the agreement. Officials say once a deal is reached through negotiations, some aspects of the NDA and a memorandum of understanding will be made public, as well as formal agreements between the city and developers. Through a 2014 election passed by 96 percent of voters, the city has promised up to $4 million in public funds for the project.

The election five years ago created a 4B sales tax economic development fund which has been capturing one-eighth of a cent of sales tax revenues, amounting to some $250,000 a year. That fund is now stands around $1.5 million in cash, with the ability to use it for specific economic development projects outlined under state law, and can be used to finance projects with an economic development purpose.

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