in Houston, Texas
Newspaper seeks public records on 911 system outage from AT&T
Tuesday, Jul 10, 2012, 10:43AM CST
By Steve Miller

Last week the 911 system in Cameron County went dark for four hours, and AT&T, which operates the system, claimed it was a system error that caused the glitch. No doubt.

Then AT&T, which it seems has a knack for such things, said there were no missed calls and all went fine, even without the emergency system that so many rely on and taxpayers foot the bill for.

Brownsville police said that AT&T’s assertion that nothing went wrong was incorrect; there were a number of emergencies and at least one missed medical call for help.

Now the Brownsville Herald is seeking answers via an open records request. But it filed the request on AT&T, a private company if there ever was one. The newspaper reasons that because the system is publicly funded, the keepers of the records, AT&T, must provide them.

AT&T maintains that the request must go to Cameron County, and it is probably correct.

The situation recalls the landmark Kneeland v. NCAA case from 1986, in which a lower court ruled the NCAA was a public body, holding that the money paid to the NCAA in “dues, assessments of television gross rights fees, and unreimbursed salaries and costs connected with championship events, were public funds.” That decision was reversed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1988.

More recently, CareFlight v. Rural Hill EMS has wound through the courts. The two entities are wrapped in a bidding war to provide services in Hill County. CareFlight filed an open records request two years ago for Rural Hill’s financial records. Rural Hill claims it is not a public entity, while CareFlight argues that because it receives most of its funding from a public source, it is subject to the state’s open records law.

A lower court ruled in favor of Rural Hill. The case is on appeal.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or

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Photo of operator via The Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies.

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