in Houston, Texas
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says politicians should disclose spouses' names on ethics forms
Tuesday, May 12, 2009, 07:43PM CST
By Ann Raber
Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said today he would disclose his wife's name on ethics forms and encourage other officials to do the same, if the AG says they should.

Emmett shared his position with Texas Watchdog following efforts by Harris County and Houston officials to conceal politicians' spouse names and, in the city's case, property addresses found on forms detailing business and financial interests.

“Public records should be open to the public. They're the ones that pay for them,” Emmett's spokesman Joe Stinebaker said. “It flies in the face of logic that such information should be withheld.”

The financial disclosure forms have presented a mess of challenges for Texas Watchdog, in our efforts to provide them online for the public. We argued down the price in Dallas County, and in Corpus Christi we got into a debate, arguing that complete financial disclosure forms ought to be disclosed to the public. These disclosures are required for public officeholders in Texas, so that anyone can see whether an official has a potential conflict of interest because of their financial and professional affiliations or their families'.

This week we turned to Houston, where the forms were provided in just over a week. The wait was because, the city's legal department said, of the need to redact spouses' names and home addresses. As Matt Pulle and Rosanna Ruiz wrote:
...concealing such information would keep citizens from knowing whether, for example, a city council member’s home was near a controversial land development blocked by the city, or a commissioner’s husband’s company was benefiting from a lucrative public contract.

Emmett told Texas Watchdog he believes all local officials should file complete financial disclosure forms, including their spouses' names and addresses, and he has amended his own as an example.

Emmett

Emmett had declined to provide his spouse's name on the form in the past, “because he has no dealing with his wife's finances,” Stinebaker said. “He did amend that when it was pointed out to him that he and his wife share ownership of their home.”

Still, Emmett's most recent disclosure form came to Texas Watchdog with wife Gwendolyn O'Brien Emmett's name whited out. (See examples here. Emmett's is on page 3.)

“Apparently the county clerk's office is under the impression that they have to redact that information," Stinebaker said. Texas Watchdog is challenging the Houston and Harris County officials' decision to conceal spouse names.

If the AG makes it clear that counties are not required to hide this information, Emmett would encourage all local officials to fill in every blank, Stinebaker said. In a similar case in Corpus Christi, the AG recently issued an open records letter ruling directing the city that the forms in their entirety must be open to the public.
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