Houston elected officials' financial disclosures a treasure trove of information
Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009, 03:09PM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
You may have seen our story yesterday about how a handful of Houston City Council members were late paying their property taxes.
Finding that type of information is not hard. It's available via public records, and anyone --- bloggers, citizen-journalists, concerned citizens --- can find it just by taking a look at a few documents.
Looking at public records, we stumbled on the property taxes story.
Texas Watchdog was putting together the map we published today of the city council members' and mayor's financial disclosure forms. We were adding pinpoints for each City Council member based on where they live. That information is typically revealed in the council members' personal financial disclosure in section 7A, where officials are asked to list their real estate holdings, or on the cover page, where each official lists an address.
But for a couple council members, we had to dig deeper.
We went to the voter registrations and the appraisal records for real estate listed on their disclosures, the latter of which could offer a clue if the officeholder claimed a homestead tax exemption. Both are available to the public online.
That's when we tripped across the interesting tidbit that a council member, Jarvis Johnson, had been late on paying taxes for a piece of land he owned. That seemed surprising, so we thought we'd check the property listed for all the council members. Lo and behold, we found two other cases, for property held by council members Sue Lovell and Jolanda Jones.
Now, we don't want to keep beating up on the council members --- besides, they all say they're fully paid up now --- but we thought this was a great example of using ordinary public records to find new or surprising information.
We hope you'll also find jewels of information in the personal financial disclosures. If you write something on your blog or Web site using the disclosure forms, please send us a link and tell us about what you found. If you stumble across anything you think Texas Watchdog should investigate, we'd like to hear about that too. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 713-980-9777.
Photo of a treasure chest by flickr user The Cake Engineer, used via a Creative Commons license.