GLEN ROSE – The Texas Public Information Act is designed to allow Texans access to information that is rightfully theirs.
It is the conscience of the Texas constitution – and acts as the very foundation of government transparency.
But what happens when the elected officials trusted with applying that law fairly and equally refuse to fulfill their elected duty?
What happens when access to information that should be readily available to anyone at any time is blocked by accidental misunderstanding or deliberate misinterpretation? Smitty Harper knows a bit about public information. She is a local public information researcher who videotapes local government meetings.
Harper has been filing Open Records requests in Somervell County for quite some time. Rarely is she convinced authorities are fully complying with the law when asked for information.
Harper will be writing an occasional column on the Texas Open Records Act for the Glen Rose Reporter – exploring certain topics such as the misconception that a governmental body or agency has 10 days to release information.
According to the 2016 Texas Public Information Handbook, that 10-day deadline only applies if a governmental body intends to assert that the information being sought is not public.
The 10 day waiting period is designed to allow the government body time to ask the Texas Attorney General’s decision to withhold the records.
But by law, a Texas governmental entity does not have the legal right to wait ten business days to respond to a request without a specific legal reason.
If a specific legal reason does NOT exist, the law states that the record keepers must “get your information promptly,” Harper said.
“Some wrongly believe they can wait till the last minute, even if they aren’t going to the AG (Attorney General), to get your information,” Harper said. “But this is a basic misunderstanding of the Texas Public Information Act.”
By law, public information must be released “promptly.” If a governmental body fails to seek an attorney general decision in time, the information is presumed to be public.
“Within 10 business days, it (the governmental entity) must request an opinion from the Texas Attorney General and inform you that’s what it’s doing,” Harper said. “If they don’t answer you back within 10 business days, you can file a complaint with the AG’s office yourself. You can then write your own comments to go to the AG as well to press your case.”
Harper’s Texas Open Records Act column debuts on the opinion page in the next edition of the Glen Rose Reporter.