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An open-government mystery solved: McAllen paid Enrique Iglesias $485,000 for 2015 performance

A pair of 2015 rulings from the Texas Supreme Court greatly limited public access to certain government documents, including, in many cases, lucrative government contracts with performers like Enrique Iglesias. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

After more than four years, McAllen taxpayers finally learned this week that for his performance at their city’s 2015 holiday parade, pop star Enrique Iglesias was paid $485,000 and provided with a chartered flight from Guadalajara, Mexico; two dozen hotel rooms; and an assortment of sushi and sashimi.

The terms of Iglesias’ agreement with the South Texas city — long hidden from public scrutiny by the state’s narrowed open-records laws — had become a chief symbol of the public’s limited access to government contracts with private entities. And the documents’ release by the city is the result of a yearslong, hard-fought battle at the Texas Capitol, where open-government advocates sought to restore public access that had been curtailed by court rulings.

A pair of 2015 rulings from the Texas Supreme Court greatly limited public access to certain government documents, including, in many cases, lucrative government contracts with businesses or performers like Iglesias. A broad transparency measure authored by state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, passed last year and went into effect this week, addressing what Watson and others described as gaping holes in the public’s right to know.

For years, reporters and others had requested that McAllen disclose how much it paid Iglesias for the performance, and the city had refused, citing exceptions in the Texas Public Information Act. The city had reportedly lost money on the deal — but taxpayers were never given the numbers. But as of this month, the law “no longer excepts from disclosure” Iglesias’ contract, City Attorney Kevin Pagan said this week in response to an open-records request from The Texas Tribune.

“Thank goodness,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Residents finally are getting to see how their taxpayer money was spent on this entertainment event.”

The contract reveals that for a one-hour performance in the McAllen Veterans Memorial Stadium on Dec. 5, 2015, Iglesias was guaranteed $485,000 from the city, with half that money to be paid in advance. The city was also responsible for picking up the pop star in western Mexico and paying for 24 hotel rooms for two nights. The contract, which is dozens of pages long, includes sections on stage setup, “lasers” and catering expectations for the crew. (A juicer with a “huge, plentiful selection of fruits and vegetables” including beets, kale, watermelon and mint was expected to be “VERY POPULAR.”)

The long-concealed document also sheds light on Iglesias’ preferred pre-show menu (one plate of chicken with vegetables and mashed potatoes, one plate of steak with vegetables and mashed potatoes, “simply cooked, no sauces”) and his post-show preferences (one California roll, one spicy tuna roll, one shrimp roll and two pieces of sashimi; tuna, yellowtail and salmon were all acceptable). By 3 p.m., his dressing room was to contain, among other things, 36 500-milliliter bottles of room-temperature spring water (“Fiji only”), one bottle of aloe juice without pulp, one bottle of aloe juice with pulp (“Ask for clarification if necessary”), six bottles of room-temperature orange Gatorade, one bottle of Ketel One Vodka (“NO SUBSTITUTES”) and two washed king-sized white sheets (“THIS IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT”).

The contracting exemption stemmed from a 2015 ruling in Boeing Co. v. Paxton. The Texas Supreme Court made it easier for governments to hide information about their business with private companies, allowing them to withhold any information that could put the companies at a competitive disadvantage. The Texas Attorney General’s Office cited the ruling thousands of times to justify withholding information.

Matthew Watkins contributed reporting.

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