in Houston, Texas
After prodding, Houston Community College posts trustees’ campaign finance reports online
Wednesday, Apr 18, 2012, 12:50PM CST
By Mike Cronin
checkbook

It took a while, but Houston Community College officials finally are coming around to the notion of providing information defined by Texas state law as public. To the public. Without a hassle.

But they still have a ways to go.

Unlike many other public entities, HCC spent at least three months and an unknown amount of taxpayer money to block the release of HCC board members’ and board seat candidates’ home addresses.

Home addresses for candidates for public office are important, among other reasons, to ensure they live at a residence that qualifies them to run.

Texas Watchdog reporters and local blogger Charles Kuffner requested in August the home addresses and other personal information contained in campaign-finance reports for nine HCC board members and one candidate.

State law allows HCC and other Texas entities funded by taxpayers to redact home addresses of its elected officials and employees only if those officials or employees requested that in writing within 14 days of taking office.

But when Texas Watchdog asked in August whether that had occurred, HCC staff attorney Jessica Saldivar replied in an e-mail that “the Texas Public Information Act does ‘not require a governmental body (HCC) to create new information, to do legal research or to answer questions.’”

Only after the Texas attorney general ruled on Nov. 15 that HCC officials must release that information did they do so.

They chose to respond to the attorney general’s order by posting the board members’ campaign finance reports online. Still, it took HCC officials until February to get it done – long after HCC board Chairman Richard Schechter suggested last summer that trustee campaign finance reports be made available online and well past the 10 business day deadline in the law.

And instead of telling Texas Watchdog precisely when HCC created its trustee campaign finance form website, Saldivar again replied in an e-mail, “Under the Texas Public Information Act, I am not required to answer questions, and therefore I cannot provide you with a statement regarding your questions.”

Dan Arguijo, the HCC spokesman, at last supplied the answer on Tuesday in an e-mail.

Board members approved posting campaign finance reports online in September, but no action took place until after HCC officials received the attorney general’s ruling on Nov. 18, Arguijo said.

The delay occurred, in part, due to HCC employees being on vacation during winter break from Dec. 19 through Jan. 3, Arguijo said.

“HCC did everything logistically possible to meet posting this important information for the public's benefit,” he said. “Moving forward we are committed to make the (campaign-finance reports) available on a timely basis.”

Past reports dating back to 2010 are available for past and current trustees, Arguijo said.

***
Contact Mike Cronin at mike@texaswatchdog.org or 713-228-2850. Follow him on Twitter at @michaelccronin or @texaswatchdog.

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Photo 'Woman Balancing Her Checkbook' money by flickr user SurvivalWoman, used via a Creative Commons license.

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