By Scott Goldstein
The Dallas Morning News
Originally published Feb. 20, 2014
No one can say Dallas City Attorney Warren Ernst doesn’t know what it’s like to be treated like a hostile witness.
That’s what it must have felt like for him as his bosses on the City Council questioned him about a variety of issues on Wednesday. Ernst was there to brief council members about his office’s goals and objectives for 2014.
After he finished his briefing, council members told Ernst what his goals and objectives for 2014 should really be.
As I noted in an earlier post, Dwaine Caraway interrogated Ernst about the diversity of his senior staff.
Later, council members Philip Kingston and Scott Griggs, who are both attorneys, hit Ernst on transparency and open records. Kingston and Griggs were two of the three council members who voted against hiring Ernst last year. The other one was Sandy Greyson.
The video clip opens with Kingston questioning Ernst about why different council members often receive conflicting information from city attorneys.
“That’s something I am continuing to grapple with,” Ernst said.
From there, Kingston turned to the Public Information Act and noted that Dallas “has been criticized for being not transparent by watchdog groups who monitor PIA requests.”
He said that Dallas has been known to file among the most challenges in the state of open records requests with the state Attorney General’s office.
“I think it’s the policy of this council to obey the Public Information Act and to be transparent,” Kingston said.
(As an assistant city attorney, Ernst defended a Dallas police practice that gives employees discretion to destroy emails permanently. He told me in 2012, “The job of police officers is to provide public safety … Not to provide a record for you to do your story. So the emphasis is on public safety.”)
Kingston asked Ernst what changes, beyond improving the Dallas Police Department’s records procedures, he hoped to make.
Like a good lawyer, Ernst answered carefully.
“I believe in upholding the Public Information Act as well as you do,” Ernst said.
Griggs later said he wants to see a uniform policy on “big data.”
Some boards and commissions only keep information and recordings for three months, while the police department retains information on people for longer than, Griggs said.
“We don’t seem to have any uniform policies on that,” Griggs said.
He said he also supports posting open records requests on the city’s website, along with the responsive information for all to see.
“We just put them out there for everyone,” Griggs said.