Terrell Tribune: AG rules city violated Public Information Act

By Gary Lindsley
The Terrell Tribune
Originally published Nov. 18, 2014

Governmental bodies throughout the country, day in and day out, violate their respective state’s open meetings and open records laws.

The city of Terrell is no different, and for that matter, may not be any worse.

But any way you look at it, when community members or media representatives ask governmental bodies for information, those governmental bodies may not simply choose to ignore the requests.

But Terrell officials have done that very thing, not once, but twice this year.

And Bob Winchester has taken them to task for it. The end result is that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office determined that the city of Terrell was and is in violation of the Texas Public Information Act.

Winchester’s saga started in August when he filed a open records request to obtain the street addresses of Section 8 housing in his neighborhood.

You see, he believed that investors had purchased the properties and turned them into Section 8 housing and then failed to take care of them.

The city did not respond to Winchester’s request, though it had 10 days, by law, to either provide information or explain why it could not do so. That did not happen.

Winchester eventually filed for relief from the Kaufman County District Attorney’s office.

ADA John Clark Long IV denied Winchester’s request because of the possibility the information could be confidential under U.S. Housing and Urban Development regulations.

So, the next step was the AG’s office. AG staffers determined the city was in violation of the state’s Public Information Act law or failing to respond within the required 10 days.

AG officials notified Terrell representatives on Nov. 10 that they had four days, until Nov. 14, to remedy the situation.

The city’s response has been that it has since filed for an opinion from the AG’s office to see if it has to release the information to Winchester.

This is the second instance this year the city has failed to follow the law.

Earlier this year, The Terrell Tribune requested information about incentives being offered Steelway International of Athens to come to Terrell.

That information was discussed by the Terrell Economic Development Corporation board and the Terrell City Council.

The TEDC eventually responded with the information. The city has to this day not even responded to the Tribune’s open records request.

Why does it require going to the AG’s office to make the city adhere to the Public Information Act?

Why will the city not respond to the newspaper’s or a citizen’s request for information without the paper or the citizen having to go to the county’s DA office, and eventually, the AG’s office.

In the AG’s letter to the city, state officials state that the AG’s office may have to sue the city of Terrell in order to enforce Terrell’s obligations under the Public Information Act.

If that happens, who is going to have to pay for the lawsuit? Terrell’s taxpayers.

So much for transparency, once again, from Terrell’s city government.