City misses deadline in open records request
May 31, 2013 at 12:31 a.m.
Updated June 1, 2013 at 1:01 a.m.
• 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.
• If an officer for public information cannot produce public information for inspection or duplication within 10 business days after the date the information is requested, the officer shall certify that fact in writing to the requestor and set a date and hour within a reasonable time when the information will be available for inspection or duplication.
Source: Texas Government Code 552.221
More than two weeks after a records request was submitted to the city of Victoria, email conversations between City Council members have not been made public.
The request made by the Victoria Advocate on May 15 specifically asks for the emails leading up to the May 14 City Council meeting, in which several members admitted to organizing research and concerns before the meeting.
A second request was made May 20 for phone records of council members in which city business was discussed.
Margaret Maddox, an attorney with Daughtry & Jordan, P.C. in Houston, said the general rule is to fulfill records requests within 10 days.
"It does say within a reasonable amount of time, but 10 days is what most people use," Maddox said.
City Attorney Thomas Gwosdz said he is waiting for several City Council members to comply with the request before he can determine when the information will be available.
The Texas Legislature allows 10 days for an entity to request an attorney general opinion before responding to a records request. However, Gwosdz said the city did not request an opinion.
If the council members coordinated their action before the meeting, they could be in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, which states that the public's business must be done in public.
Public information is defined by law as "information that is collected, assembled or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business."
Any record of those conversations that pertained to the council meeting would then be public record under state law.
Maddox said timelines for making information available cannot be open-ended, under the Texas Government Code.
Depending on the amount of information requested, it could take several weeks to make available, Maddox said.
However, with the limited time period in the Victoria Advocate's request, she said, it should not take that long.
The Houston law firm where Maddox works routinely responds to public record issues through the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, a nonprofit that advocates for government transparency.