ODSEC to Court for Concealment of Public Information about Community Centers

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Thais Reyes Serrano, director of the Socioeconomic and Community Development.

Photo taken from the ODSEC Facebook page

San Juan – The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) filed a mandamus against the Puerto Rico Office for Socioeconomic and Community Development (ODSEC, in Spanish) and the Special Communities Perpetual Trust to demand access to public information related to the ownership of community centers, recreational facilities, or sports facilities in Puerto Rico’s special communities.

From September to October 2022, Journalist Luis Joel Méndez González, from the CPI, requested a list of community centers and recreational spaces over which the ODSEC has jurisdiction. The petition was also submitted to the Special Communities Perpetual Trust.

Although the ODSEC and the Trust stated several times that they do not have jurisdiction or ownership of facilities in Puerto Rico’s special communities, subsequently, Thais Reyes Negrón, as executive director of the ODSEC and chair of the Trust, granted at least two management agreements for community centers, recreational facilities, or sports facilities in Puerto Rico’s special communities, in which the Trust was identified as the owner of said properties.

A few months later, the CPI saw that the Special Communities Perpetual Trust announced on its social networks that it had signed two administration agreements to share the management of a gym in the special community of Las Curías, in San Juan, and the Rosa E. Rivera community center of the Los Filtros community, in Guaynabo.

When the CPI asked how the Special Communities Perpetual Trust could make these administration agreements with the community boards when months before it had indicated that it neither had the ownership nor the jurisdiction of the centers, press official Wilmelys Márquez Montalvo said both the community center and the gymnasium were built with Special Communities Perpetual Trust funds, although the ownership is under the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP, in Spanish).

But the signed agreements do not mention the DTOP or the Housing Department as the owners of the two ceded properties. And DTOP denied being the owner of those properties. The agency explained to the CPI that when the executing agencies, such as DTOP and Housing, were entrusted with acquiring assets in special communities, those transactions were carried out as representatives of the Trust. “The Trust is, in effect, the owner of both structures,” the DTOP stated in writing.

For this reason, the CPI sued the Trust and the ODSEC.

“By providing false information to the CPI and refusing to deliver the list of properties they own or have jurisdiction over in Puerto Rico’s special communities, the ODSEC and the Trust have scoffed at and violated the constitutional right of access to public information,” the mandamus states.

“Access to public information is a right of the people who live in Puerto Rico and the agencies of the Government of Puerto Rico must take it seriously. When an agency lies repeatedly, it leaves us no choice but to denounce it and demand that it complies with the law,” said CPI Director Carla Minet.

The CPI is represented in this case by the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico Law School’s Legal Clinic and its attorneys Luis José Torres Asencio, Steven Lausell Recurt, Jeffrey Martínez Aguiar, as well as students Jorge A. Flores Torres and Luis R. Piñero Gonzalez.

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