Open government advocates are cheering an opinion by the Texas attorney general's office that Austin cannot withhold records showing who applied for city manager.
Austin officials had withheld the record by claiming the information would harm the city's competition among applicants.
However, in a nonbinding opinion released Wednesday, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Taylor said the city's argument wasn't sufficient to outweigh the public's right to know the activities of their local government. He ruled the city and its executive search firm must turn over most of the information requested by the Austin American-Statesman related to the search for a new city manager, including candidate applications.
In the 10-page opinion, Taylor said the information requested for disclosure would not only have to provide a competitive advantage to a job applicant, it would have to provide "a decisive advantage." The information sought by the American-Statesman would not provide such a decisive advantage and must be disclosed.
The opinion comes after Austin refused to release the information, arguing it would hurt Austin competitively. It sought to apply an exemption from state open records laws exempting competitive bids from disclosure because of the disadvantage cities would face if disclosed.
But the attorney general's office said competition for public employees is not a "competitive situation" under the law.
Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the city's argument "was a far stretch, and the Attorney General's Office ruled that it didn't fly. Competitive bidding deals with contracts for goods and services, not people — and certainly not the highest-level public leaders."
She added: "The public needs to know who is under consideration, whether they have a good track record and whether they are a good fit for the community."
A spokesman for Austin said city officials are aware of the ruling and considering their next step.
Although not binding, an opinion provides the attorney general's view on what position would prevail if a matter were taken to court.