Transparency panel addresses open government concerns amid COVID-19 pandemic

Requestors seeking government records using the Texas Public Information Act are running into roadblocks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A panel of journalists and open government experts addressed their concerns and questions during an online policy discussion Wednesday hosted by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini and co-hosted by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, the Texas Association of Broadcasters and the Texas Press Association.

View a recording of online event on the senator’s Facebook page.

Several questions from audience members centered on government offices saying they are not filling Public Information Act requests because their offices are closed or are operating on “skeleton crew” because of COVID-19.

Justin Gordon, chief of the Texas Attorney General’s Office Open Records Division, said a government cannot make an “informal” decision that it is operating a “skeleton crew” and, thus, not adhering to the Public Information Act.

“What we’re going to generally look for is that it’s been identified as a skeleton crew day by the governmental body,” Gordon said. “It needs to be some type of official recognition by the governmental body itself.”