Texas AG rules city of Killeen must provide information

By Holden Wilen
Killeen Daily Herald
Originally published Feb. 17, 2016

The Texas Attorney General ruled the city of Killeen needs to release documents it had been withholding from the public related to a $247,000 contract for security upgrades at the Killeen Municipal Court.

City spokeswoman Hilary Shine said Wednesday the city will comply with the Attorney General’s ruling.

“The Attorney General agreed that the City could withhold critical information under the Texas Homeland Security Act, and we will comply with the release of the redacted documents,” Shine said.

The Herald had asked for the city’s contract for the upgrades, which was part of a more than $2 million open-ended contract the city had with G4S.

Linda Pemberton, a paralegal in the city attorney’s office, said in an email Wednesday she plans to provide the Herald with a redacted copy of the contract by the close of business Feb. 24.

“Other than reading the (Attorney General’s) response, I have not had the opportunity to prepare the information to be released,” Pemberton said.

Jesse Harvey, an assistant attorney general, said the city should release the information within 10 calendar days of receiving the opinion and the city’s proposed timeline “sounds about right.”

“If that doesn’t happen, file a complaint identifying the opinion and letting us know you haven’t received the information,” Harvey said.

The Herald had filed its Freedom of Information request with the city attorney’s office Nov. 13, 2015, seeking documents related to the city’s contract with G4S Technology LLC.

The council had approved a $1.8 million contract with G4S Technology to upgrade the security system at the Killeen-Fort Hood Regional Airport in May 2014 after bidding out the project. The contract included a provision authorizing G4S to perform upgrades at other city buildings.

In January, the council approved an additional $247,000 contract with the company for upgrades at the Killeen Municipal Court, which G4S completed in August.

On Dec. 1, 2015, the city replied, providing documentation for the airport contract but withholding the information related to the court.

In its letter dated Feb. 11, 2016, the Attorney General’s office said certain information from the requested documents will need to be withheld because it relates to an assessment of the risk or vulnerability of persons or property to an act of terrorism or related crime activity. However, most of the information must be released because it is not confidential and the city did not explain why it should be excepted under the state law.

“…we find the city has failed to establish the remaining information was collected, assembled, or is maintained by or for the city for the purpose of preventing, detecting, or investigating an act of terrorism or related criminal activity and relates to an assessment of the risk or vulnerability of persons or property, including critical infrastructure, to an act of terrorism or related criminal activity for purposes of section 418.177,” according to the Attorney General’s opinion.

When made aware of the Attorney General’s ruling Wednesday, City Councilman Jonathan Okray said he thinks information being released to the public “is good for the citizens of the city,” and the administration needs to be more transparent with the public.

“No, they are not transparent. Unequivocally no. And that has been since before I was on the council,” Okray said about the city’s top administrators. “They obfuscate at every opportunity.”

The Herald, as part of a report on city finances, had three other pending requests for information. On Feb. 2, the Herald asked for written communications regarding any staff layoffs or frozen positions. On Feb. 3, the Herald asked the city for the number of positions occupied and the number of vacant positions on July 1, 2015, and Feb. 1, 2016. Also on Feb. 3, the Herald asked for the number of employees on the city’s payroll July 1, 2015, and Jan. 31, 2016.

On Wednesday, the city responded to the Feb. 2 request but left the other two pending.

The city’s top management has denied Herald reporters direct access to city department heads.

When the Herald requested interviews with department heads for a special publication highlighting positive developments in Killeen during 2015, Shine and City Manager Glenn Morrison asked for all questions to be submitted in writing,

“For Progress, you may submit all of your questions to me in writing, and the appropriate staff will respond in writing through me,” Shine said in two separate emails, referring to the Herald’s annual Progress edition. “We will do our best to accommodate your suspense dates.”

In a Feb. 12 email, City Manager Glenn Morrison said he believes requiring written questions will save time.

“Mrs. Shine will continue to handle all media responses on behalf of City staff. We feel the best way to accomplish this is by written questions in advance,” Morrison said. “This allows our staff the time to get you the best information possible. In my opinion this saves everyone time. We do have a great story to tell and we want to have the time to provide it accurately.”

Transparency should be a priority for the city, Okray said, even when the information may be negative. The public needs to have access to information and be able to speak to officials, he said.

“If there’s nothing to hide, then we must provide,” Okray said. “Nobody likes negativity, but it’s a part of transparency. You don’t do everything good, but you don’t do everything bad. There is a balance.”