Article on open records transparency hearing whitewashed of key facts, witnesses

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Article on open records transparency hearing whitewashed of key facts, witnesses

Did you read the article about a recent House Committee hearing on Government Transparency & Operation? Would you expect the Legislative Liaison for the Texas Association of Counties who wrote the article be fully transparent and write a factual post identifying ALL the people who gave testimony at that hearing on government transparency? Might you suppose the Legislative Liaison who wrote the article would be transparent and not whitewash the article of key facts discussed in the hearing?

I’d be willing to bet there’s something of note about this House Committee hearing which might make it less interesting for the members of the Texas Association of Counties if the Legislative Liaison included it in her post.

On May 25, 2016 the House Committee on Government Transparency & Operations met to take invited and public testimony on two interim charges pertaining to the Texas Public Information Act. You can read about the interim charges here. and watch the hearing here.

In her article dated June 30, 2016, Texas Association of Counties Legislative Liaison Nanette Forbes dedicated approximately 25% of her article to invited testimony taken from members of the Texas Press Association and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, while devoting over 70% of her article to elected officials in Angelina County attempting to make the case that “redundant public information requestors” cause financial hardship on a governmental body.

And notice Ms. Forbes whitewashed her article of key facts discussed in the hearing—which I will get to later.

Read through this commentary written by Nanette Forbes describing the testimony of the voluminous requests received by the Angelina County Judge and County Attorney who now want laws to provide a recourse for “abusive” requestors (emphasis mine):

“Angelina County Judge Wes Suiter told the committee that one commissioner received 934 requests in one day on Nov. 24, 2015 and 1,500 in one day on June 1, 2015. In 2014, a justice of the peace received an open records request for any and all records from him and his predecessor which totaled a span of 44 years’ worth of information. Since June 2015 there have been 22,887 public information records email requests from the same requestor. This number does not include the requestor’s additional hand-delivered requests. The judge provided more examples of massive numbers of public information requests that are egregious, harassing, retaliatory and repetitive in nature.

“It becomes humanly impossible to respond to the Texas Freedom of Information Act for these type of requests,” said Suiter.”

“Ed Jones, Angelina County Attorney, testified that the county has no problem with the Act and believes in transparency and open government. However, he feels there should be legislation that will provide a balance for the general public requesting information and laws that will provide a recourse for abusive requestors.”

Whining

Anyone who files open records requests knows Chapter 552. 275 of the Texas Government Code contains a provision for calculating and providing a written estimate to the requestor so the governmental entity may reasonably recover some costs associated with producing the responsive material.

Nowhere in her article does Ms. Forbes specifically identify Kelly Shannon of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas who pondered why Angelina County isn’t applying Chapter 552.275 and asking for a deposit from the “abusive” requestor?

Perhaps Chapter 552.275 doesn’t fit the legislative agenda of the members of the Texas Association of Counties who might be supportive of taxpayer-subsidized retribution against people over filing open records requests?

Ms. Shannon cautioned both the Committee members and Angelina County officials to be mindful of blocking public access to legitimate information citizens may lawfully obtain to keep an eye on their government.

Read through the article again and tell me where Ms. Forbes identifies Stephanie Townsend Allala, a former TV journalist and current probate lawyer. Where in her article does Ms. Forbes disclose the fact that Ms. Allala was sued by the City of El Paso due to her Texas Public Information Act requests? (emphasis mine):

“History, and the Texas Civil Rights Project, are on our side. The Texas Civil Rights Project filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of Stephanie Townsend Allala in the lawsuit now pending before the Texas Supreme Court. Earlier this year, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas also filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of Ms. Allala.

In addition, several appellate court rulings in Texas have upheld the right of public access to public discussion of public business between public officials. Any other conclusion would negate democratic checks and balances, and, thus, sully the democratic system.

In 2012, instead of providing public documents, El Paso City Council sued Ms. Allala, with the Texas Attorney General, who ruled the documents are public records. The El Paso City Council has spent more than $250,000 hiding public records.”

Why did Ms. Forbes whitewash her article of the testimony given by Zenobia Johnson on the University of Texas at Austin pertaining to BCC of emails and that of Steve Swanson? Was the Legislative Liaison for the TAC unable to locate the witness list and broadcast archives associated with the hearing? Witness lists and broadcast hearings are public information, are they not??

It’s no surprise the Legislative Liaison of the Texas Association of Counties would self-censor her article and suppress any mention of testimony by Stephanie Townsend Allala—she and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas both were on the same side of a lawsuit brought against Ms. Allala and then Attorney General Greg Abbott by the City of El Paso.

That case is 14-0798 and as a result of the Texas Supreme Court refusing to hear Ms. Allala’s case—which all began when she saw the appearance of a walking quorum by the El Paso city council & filed a series of open records requests for city council cell-phone communications & emails—-we now have a standing decision from the 3rd Court of Appeals pertaining to public information not in the possession of the governmental body at the time of the request.

Exit question: Are Ms. Forbes and the Texas Association of Counties supportive of taxpayer-subsidized retribution towards people for lawfully using the Texas Public Information Act to keep a watchful eye on their government?

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