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The Dallas Morning News Robert W. Mong, Jr. Editor To the judges: For local governments and one private company, it was a pretty sweet deal ‘The 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 that agency’s budget wwas funded with taxpayer dollars. Only board members appointed by local governments had full voting rights, But the North Cental ‘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. ‘And for most of its existence, one firm provided the NCTRCA’s entire staff, from the executive director to the receptionist. Employees of All Temps 1 Personnel repeatedly approved their own company’s certification as a minority-owned business, even as it won millions in government contracts. Those ‘employees decided whether or not to certify All Temps” potential competitors and its own subcontractors ‘on government jobs, and they had access to sensitive financial information submitted by potential competitors to 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. ‘The first open records request submitted to the NCTRCA set off. legal battle that The News and its altomeys 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 raised disturbing questions about the NCTRCA’s oversight and potential conflicts of interest — and their reporting prompted major changes. They also exposed serious flaws in the use of temporary employees provided by All Temps and other companies to local governments. ‘The reporters documented the dismal track record of a new company that Ail Temps employees at the NCTRCA cettified as a minority-owned business just a few months before All Temps hired it as a subcontractor on a government contract worth millions. ‘The investigation revealed that the NCTRCA’s latest audit, which reported “significant deficiencies,” was completed in 2001. Two family members headed the NCTRCA for much of its history: a father, and a daughter who falsely claimed that she had earned a college degree from an online institution. And records obtained by The News revealed that several companies certified by the NCTRCA figured prominently in federal corruption investigations, including one company that apparently was recertified after its owner had been sent to prison for contract fraud. 508 Young Street, Dallas, Texas 75202, 214-077-6828, Fax 214-977-8285 ‘an AH. Belo Corporation subsilary Timms and Krause also disclosed that All Temps and other contractors failed to adequately screen temporary employees provided to Dallas County. One of those temps was on probation for a drug charge while he worked for the county and also faced criminal charges for beating his girlfriend and shooting up ‘an occupied car. County officials admitted that they didn’t know about his past or the criminal records of other temps until they were uncovered by The News. ‘The News’ investigation was based in part on records obtained by the NCTRCA after a long battle. ‘The NCTRCA initially refused to respond to an open records request filed by Timms and Krause under the Texas Public Information Act request. The reporters then filed a complaint with the Texas Attorney General, ‘The AG ultimately issued a favorable opinion. But even before that happened, the NCTRCA sued the newspaper to block release of its records. Despite the potential cost, the newspaper aggressively fought the NCTRCA in court. A year later, State District Judge Eric Moyé 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 and awarded attorneys fees to The News. ‘The executive director of the NCTRCA resigned shortly after Judge Moyé's ruling. In response to The News investigation, the NCTRCA also created a new policy that prevents its staffing company from self-certifying. And All Temps no longer provides its staff. For the first time in many, ‘many years, the agency sought bids on a staffing contract, which was won by another company. Local government officials say they are pushing for more reforms. ‘As a result of this investigation and The News’ commitment to the 1" Amendment, open records law in Texas is stronger. 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. Singerely, Bob Mong, Fait ‘The Dallas Morning News.