So maybe it's surprising that it's taken Texas Watchdog five months of existence to have our first contested Texas Public Information Act request case.
We've got two cases, in fact, but from the same geographic point, Corpus Christi.
We had asked both Corpus Christi and Nueces County for two sets of records: One, the personal financial disclosure forms for the city council and county commissioners, and two, a copy of their city/county employee salary database.
Both the city and the county are seeking to redact -- a fancy word for "take a big black marker to" -- certain information on the disclosure forms. They've written to state Attorney General Greg Abbott, asking him to weigh in.
"Specifically, the City claims that portions of the requested information are excepted from disclosure as: (1) concerning certain addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, and personal family information under sections 552.117 and 552.1175 of the [Public Information] Act," Assistant City Attorney Ronald Bounds wrote to the AG.
Nueces County's letter to the AG was less specific, saying only that the county judge "wishes to withhold some of the information requested," and not really saying -- at least not in the letter we were sent -- exactly what information they want to withhold. The county cites Texas Government Code 552.101 as the reason for withholding the records. That's a one-paragraph law that says this:
INFORMATION. Information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if it is information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision.
(Section 552.021 is the part of the Public Information Act that says that public records are public at least during normal business hours.)
Now, in our minds, it's hard for us to see how information on a disclosure form can be confidential. Think about it: If you're disclosing something, you're not withholding it. And if you're withholding something, then you're not disclosing it.
(You might remember that the Corpus Christi Caller-Times' recent report that it took the city 15 days to get the newspaper a copy of the city's open records policy. Yikes.)
The law says that we also get to make our case to the AG about why the records should be made public. So we're working now to try to draft that response. (Got advice for us? Send it on. I'm at email@example.com, and my boss, Trent Seibert, is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
As for the other information we requested -- the public employees' salary data -- Nueces County also sent us a bill: $1,184.
Even though we specifically asked for the salary data in an electronic format, the county is proposing giving us paper records, saying the documents don't exist in an electronic format for the date range we requested (Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2008).
They break that down to 10,760 pages of records (at 10 cents a page), plus six hours of staff time (at $15 an hour) and an $18 overhead fee.
I enjoyed talking a little while ago by phone with Belinda Hinojosa-Persohn, the chief of administrative services in County Attorney Laura Garza Jimenez's office. As I mentioned to her, we don't want 10,000 pages of Xerox copies -- we don't want that much paper, and we don't want the county to go to that much trouble. We really just want an electronic copy of the salary database. She said she'd take my questions and try to get answers to them.
Nueces County letter to Attorney General Greg Abbott
Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog -- now on Ning! Fan our page on Facebook, join our group on MySpace, follow us on Twitter, fan us on Digg and send us stories you think we ought to see, join our network on de.licio.us and our social network on Ning, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on NewsVine, tumblr, FriendFeed and YouTube.