AG: Spring Hill ISD must release scoreboard document it sought to withhold

By Meredith Shamburger
Longview News-Journal
Originally published Aug. 15, 2017

Spring Hill ISD cannot withhold a document it had sought to keep confidential relating to financing for a new scoreboard at its football stadium, the Texas Attorney General’s Office has ruled.

The district has not said if it plans to release the document or appeal the ruling as allowed under the Texas Public Information Act.

“However, there is a legitimate public interest in the essential facts about a financial transaction between an individual and a governmental body,” Assistant Attorney General Tim Neal wrote in a letter dated Aug. 7. “Upon review, we find no portion of the submitted information is highly intimate or embarrassing and not of legitimate public interest. Therefore, the district may not withhold any portion of the submitted information under section 552.101 in conjunction with common-law privacy.”

The ruling came after the News-Journal had requested a series of emails and text messages between Superintendent Steven Snell and school board members relating to the new scoreboard after the district announced it would be paid for with funding from a private source.

The district released a series of documents responsive to the request but sought to withhold one message because it would identify the person funding the scoreboard — who was later identified by Snell as trustee Frank Bufkin III.

Rebecca Bailey, the school district’s lawyer, wrote to the attorney general’s office in a letter earlier this summer that the district believed the email could be withheld under several exemptions in the law, including confidential information, common-law privacy and the freedom of association. The News-Journal received a redacted copy of that letter as part of the open records process.

A third party, represented by attorney Gene Creely II, also submitted a letter to the attorney general seeking to exempt the email from disclosure on the basis of common-law privacy and confidential information.

In his letter, Neal noted a small portion of the document can be withheld under the Texas Government Code: a phone number, which is one of several personal identifying information items allowed to be excepted from disclosure. But that exemption would only apply if Bufkin had previously requested that his phone number be kept confidential.