When the Dallas Morning News wanted the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas to open its books they were handed a bill for a million dollars. At least that was the initial word when The News asked the center for its check register going back five years. The newspaper was told the cost would be in the seven-figure range.
The news came during a phone call to Leah Hurley, vice president for legal affairs at the medical center.
According to the story:
Hurley said The News' request would generate about 13.1 million records for a five-year period. But even after removing fields containing information exempted by law, she said, staff would have to review each record, line-by-line, to make sure nothing got through. And that would cost money.
"Generally, we do not release documents that we have generated electronically unless we have some check-and-balance to ensure that what we have attempted to do has occurred," she said in a phone conversation with The News.
The story reports that Hurley promptly hung up when attorney Joe Larsen, who was on the call representing the News, piped up with a question.
She had no doubt heard of the keen skills of Larsen, a board member at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, regarding the state’s open records law.
As an attorney, it would be supposed that Hurley would be able to defend her cost statement.
But apparently not. This week, the medical center amended its cost estimate dramatically downward – to the tune of a more reasonable, but still high, $2,884.60.
The University of Texas System has nine universities and six health institutions. We’ve seen two other stark examples of not-so-transparent behavior regarding another of one of its health institutions, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
First there was the questionable openness of a UT regent’s meeting in 2008 to discuss layoffs at the medical center. The Texas Faculty Association sued and the case was settled. Then there was the somewhat volatile accosting of a reporter who dared ask for public records regarding the dismissal of the hospital’s former police chief.
These episodes beg the question: Are UT medical institutions hiding something?
Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.