in Houston, Texas
Fort Worth ISD trustee formally requests public information when asking nicely doesn't work
Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010, 03:58PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
school blackboard

Apparently, it is easier for school board trustees in Fort Worth to file a Texas Public Information Act request to get information from their own administrators than it is to simply ask for it. And even then, the information highway sometimes remains stubbornly closed.

Trustee Ann Sutherland said she filed a complaint with the state attorney general's office to compel Fort Worth Independent School District officials to comply with a request she made six weeks ago to see some district legal expense records, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The Public Information Act says the district must within 10 business days either provide the records or a reason why they will not surrender them.

Sutherland, who ran for the board in part to get the district to make public an outside auditor's assessment of district finances, said she continued filing formal records request after her election in May because she had to.

"I have chosen to do that because I find that I get serviced better, and I still don't get it all," she said. ... "I believe this is my right as a citizen."

The newspaper reported that fellow Trustee Christene Moss expressed compassion not for Sutherland, but for school administrators who get "bogged down" by such requests "and take their eye off the ball, which is instruction."

Keith Elkins, executive director of the Freedom Information Foundation of Texas, told Texas Watchdog today he thought it a pity Sutherland was learning firsthand that many average citizens in Texas are similarly blocked when trying to get information from their public institutions.

"It sounds like the height of absurdity for an elected official to have to make a formal application for information she and the rest of the public have a right to and then be criticized for making the request," Elkins said. "Apparently, the administrators for this school district forget that they are working for the taxpayers of the district and that this trustee is a representative of those taxpayers."

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org.

Photo of a school blackboard by flickr user woodleywonderworks, used via a Creative Commons license.

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