Editorial: Kilgore College transparency threatened by records tactic

By Longview News-Journal
Originally published July 2, 2014

Kilgore College’s practice of sending every open records request to its attorney for review is almost breathtaking — and not in a good way.

In an era that’s seen almost every taxpayer-funded entity in the nation looking for ways to reduce spending, this is a conscious — and utterly unnecessary — decision to spend more.

The attorney who benefits from billing, at $195 per hour, to review the requests must know his services are not needed for this task.

If he doesn’t, it may be time for the college to find another attorney.

Yes, governmental entities may need expert advice when an unusual records request comes through the door. While most are not complicated, some might fall close to the boundary between information that must be made public and that which should not be released. But we’d be surprised if Kilgore College or most other public entities get more than one or two a year in that category.

But Kilgore College leaders have made the decision that even the most mundane requests get the high-cost review.

For instance, how a public entity spends money is a matter of public record. It is an open record under state law, and that’s clear without the least bit of ambiguity. This includes salaries paid to public officials, what is spent on travel — for that matter, what is spent on attorney’s fees.

So when any person wants to look at the bills for, say, August 2011, this is not a matter any attorney needs to research.

Yet that is apparently exactly what’s happening at Kilgore College.

This is not an example of a public entity being cautious. It’s an example of one that is being purely wasteful for no reason whatsoever.

Or perhaps there is a reason that has nothing to do with the law.

Maybe Kilgore College is attempting to discourage Kilgore resident Tommy Konczak and other interested parties from filing open records requests.

Last year, Konczak, who simply likes to stay on top of how taxpayer dollars are being handled, filed more than 15 open records requests.

And in more than one meeting of college trustees, the News-Journal reported Sunday, there has been negative discussion about how much Konczak’s requests have cost in legal fees.

Never mind that those costs are being run up for no valid reason.

Of course, it is also possible this is a delaying tactic aimed at leading a concerned citizen to get frustrated and just give up.

If the college is pursuing this tactic as a way to discourage Konczak — or anyone else — that is even worse than wasting money. It suggests a punitive attitude toward those who seek information the law says anyone has a clear and fundamental right to receive. It might also suggest the college has something to hide.

The fact is if Kilgore College is really that concerned about legalities on requests for public information, it doesn’t have to pay an attorney to have them addressed: The Texas Attorney General’s office would be happy to do this vetting at no cost. We’re reasonably sure the administration is well aware of this.

It’s time for the college to stop playing games with taxpayers’ money and their rights.