in Houston, Texas
Texas Watchdog wins another open records battle with the city of Houston
Monday, Jul 20, 2009, 06:03PM CST
By Trent Seibert

There has seemed to be a pattern lately when we've tried to get basic public records from Houston city government. And not a good one, either.

We haven't been trying to wheedle state secrets out of the city or from Mayor Bill White. We've asked for records that are either clearly public or that other governments have given us here at Texas Watchdog without a complaint or comment.

The most recent battle we fought was for salary information in connection with the city employees who work at the Houston Airport System.

Texas Watchdog requested the salary records earlier this year, as part of our ongoing investigation into the airport's spinoff nonprofit, HAS Development Corp., which does most of its work behind closed doors -- and which has also generated major questions.

This time, Texas Watchdog won the fight for the records.

(And we're not looking to publish everyone's name with a salary attached. We're looking closely, though, at the top dogs and key people in the organization -- and to do that we requested the airport's salary database.

Texas Watchdog has, in the past, only made public the top brass in governments we've requested salary info from. That usually amounts to $100,000 and up. See salary stories about El Paso County, Corpus Christi and the state of Texas.)

To be sure, we've gotten plenty of records from the city of Houston without too much trouble. But there have been enough sticking points when it comes to government transparency here in Houston to raise an eyebrow or two.

Not long ago, we had to make our case to the attorney general in order to get Mayor Bill White's public schedule. (Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett coughed up their schedules without saying boo.)

We waged the same fight to get Mayor Bill White's e-mails between him and a prominent city developer.

We've also had a heck of a time fighting redactions in the ethics forms filled out by Houston and Harris County offiicals.

Have we just had a bad run? Or is this just business as usual for the city?

Here's hoping transparency becomes more than just a throwaway phrase tossed around at City Hall.

Tuesday, 07/21/2009 - 09:06AM

Alas, this is business as usual around here. Frankly I'm surprised that you were able to get such prompt replies from Harris County as well. Ethics and transparency are two words that are not in the City's lexicon. Never have been. And at this rate, never will be.

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