in Houston, Texas
Is the city of Fort Worth joining the disturbing trend of withholding public information?
Monday, Jun 21, 2010, 02:37PM CST
By Trent Seibert

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram ran a piece over the weekend about concerns that folks there have in getting public records.

From reporter Gene Trainor:

People eager to learn about spending on a park project, plans for a proposed pipeline down their street or code violations at a neighborhood eyesore often have nowhere to turn for information other than the city.

If they're lucky, they can get answers through a phone call to a Fort Worth official. But increasingly, people say they cannot obtain public information unless they file requests in writing, wait weeks for an answer and pay hefty charges -- sometimes thousands of dollars.

Read the whole story, certainly, but just know that there is more to this story.

Some public officials seem to be fighting harder to keep public records out of the hands of the public. Sadly, this appears to be a growing trend across the state.

Some recent examples...

From the San Antonio Express-News concerning an elected official's e-mails.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson refuses to comply with a Texas attorney general's ruling that ordered him to release e-mails in his private accounts that contain public information. This week he instructed the Bexar County district attorney's office to sue the AG.

The San Antonio Express-News submitted an open-records request under the Texas Public Information Act on Feb. 17, seeking all e-mails between Adkisson and grass-roots toll opponent Terri Hall regarding business of Bexar County and the Metropolitan Planning Organization, of which Adkisson is chairman.

The request sought e-mail correspondence from Adkisson's county-provided e-mail address as well as from two private accounts he maintains. The newspaper is seeking the e-mails because they would offer insight into Adkisson's management style at the MPO.

From the Austin American-Statesman about ACC refusing to release purchase prices for possible future campuses:

In the past month or so, Austin Community College has announced the acquisition of property in Bastrop, Elgin and Leander for possible future campuses, as well as a portion of Highland Mall in North Central Austin for administrative offices and classrooms.

Stephen Kinslow, ACC's president and CEO, has emphasized with each announcement that the school's master plan calls for expanding to meet the growing demand for higher education and work force training in Central Texas. His frequently repeated refrain: "Acquiring land now is a good investment for the future."

But the college refuses to say how much it has paid for the parcels — a figure that almost certainly runs into the millions of dollars. ACC has said only that it is using a combination of bonds and cash for the acquisitions. Like other public community colleges, ACC is funded by local property taxes, legislative appropriations of state tax dollars and tuition.

And another example from the Statesman about what public officials are revealing about F1 racing:

The preliminary results are in for which government agencies and officials are the most forthcoming about they know about the prospect of bringing taxpayer-supported Formula One racing to Austin.

The short analysis: So far, those who appear to know the most have been willing to share the least.

To review: Three weeks ago, the Statesman submitted a series of open records requests to the various parties that participated in luring Formula One racing to Austin: Comptroller Susan Combs, Gov. Rick Perry, state Sen. Kirk Watson and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, through the city of Austin. Over the past several days the results have trickled in.

The operative word is “trickle.” That’s because most of the information is being withheld. Each party has invoked one or more exceptions to the Texas Public Information Act as a way to delay or prevent the release of some documents.

A trend seems to be in the works and it's a trend that Texas Watchdog is very wary of. We believe that more public information is the best public information and that when making decisions about public records, bureaucrats should err on the side of the taxpayer.

If you are having trouble obtaining public records from a government entity in your community, give us a call. We may be able to help, or point you to someone who can.

Trent Seibert can be reached at 832-316-4994 or at

Photo by Flickr user Xiguli - Lisa, used via a Creative Commons license.

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