Open government efforts are cause for celebration

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Originally published 13 August 2

An editor and reporter whose work in El Paso exposed a school test-rigging scandal and a state legislator from Corpus Christi who has worked to improve public access to government information are being recognized by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

In short, the group’s scheduled annual conference Friday in Austin is expected to be a celebration of and workshop on open government and the First Amendment. The accomplishments of these recipients are particularly suited for celebration.

El Paso Times editor Robert Moore and former Times reporter Zahira Torres used the Texas Public Information Act to obtain thousands of documents pertaining to student testing in the El Paso Independent School District.

They pieced together evidence detailing a scheme to prevent the test scores of under-performing students from bringing down the district’s average. That scheme went so far as to force some students to drop out of school.

Last year, former superintendent Lorenzo Garcia pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud for his role in helping to create the test rigging system. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

Torres is now an education reporter for the Denver Post.

State Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, is chairman of the powerful House Calendars Committee and has long been an open-government advocate.

During this year’s regular legislative session, Hunter worked to improve the Texas Public Information Act to reflect the widespread use of electronic devices. He also passed legislation that encourages publishers and broadcasters to retract and correct mistakes in their news reports promptly.

Hunter also helped clarify protections for whistle-blowers and journalists in lawsuits aimed at stifling free speech.

All Texans are better off when government actions are transparent and officials are held accountable. Information gathered through transparent records can expose wrongdoing and enforce accountability.