EDITORIAL: The public’s information

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On Sept. 11, The Independent filed a pair of public information requests with the City of Liberty Hill. At press time Wednesday — two weeks later — the newspaper continues to wait for the information, or word that the City will be requesting an exception to providing the information through the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

What’s the delay?

Transparency is something Mayor Rick Hall and the City Council like to say is most important to them.

But sitting on information requests up to a state-mandated deadline is not a sign of transparency, it is at best a sign that there is no hurry in responding to the public’s inquiry.

When the government spends the public’s money and makes decisions on how to govern, that information belongs to you. No one gets to choose what is good to share and what isn’t. If anyone in government believes they don’t have a responsibility to share information and respond to requests, it is fair to ask who they truly represent. It is fair to ask why that information is not provided without hesitation.

Chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code covers the rules for public information, and states “…government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

Yet here we are, waiting and wondering what is so complicated about the requests in question.

One request was for details of a City staff member’s salary adjustment. It was discussed in executive session and when the Council emerged to take a vote, the motion was vague and without details. Sure, no action was taken in closed session, but no explanation was provided in open session.

Subsequent requests for details were again met with vague explanations, so the official public information request was submitted.

There is often a misinterpretation of the rules for such requests that gives governmental bodies an excuse to delay, but waiting to provide the information as long as legally possible is not the spirit of the law.

The law states, “An officer for public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer. In this subsection, ‘promptly’ means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.”

The loophole comes into play when a ruling on the information is requested from the Attorney General.

“The governmental body must ask for the attorney general’s decision and state the exceptions that apply within a reasonable time but not later than the 10th business day after the date of receiving the written request.”

So the Council voted to adjust a salary, and a month later the public still doesn’t know exactly what that adjustment was and the specific details of the adjustment. Why?

Is there something to hide? Or do City leaders simply feel they don’t have the obligation to share your information with you?

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