Open Records and web sites for government agencies need fixin'

Hadassah Schloss
Cost Rules Administrator
Co-Chair Open Records Steering Committee
Open Records Division
Office of Attorney General
P.O. Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711

February 6, 2006

Ms. Schloss:

Per a phone conversation regarding an Open Records request to the Department of Transportation last fall, you suggested I address a letter to the AG’s Open Records Steering Committee regarding Open Records suggestions to make to the Legislature. As an ordinary citizen leading a grassroots effort against tolling existing freeways, I have made many public information requests. While I understand these requests are time consuming and do cost various departments money to compile and copy public records, the public cannot have its right to free and open government hampered by personal economic constraints.

Pursuant to Texas Government Code 552.267, citizens can request to have charges waived when providing the information benefits the general public. TxDOT declined to waive the charges, and, as I understand it, the only entity I can appeal to is TxDOT! We would ask that you consider making recommendations to the Legislature to amend the Open Records law to allow for an unbiased third party to consider any appeals regarding the costs of providing information to the public.

As an example of the extent to which TxDOT went to try to impede our access to public records, they attempted to charge me the full copy cost of $467 in order to simply VIEW the documents. Certainly there can be a more economically equitable way to treat citizens who have every right to access and obtain PUBLIC information for the government they fund.

One more suggestion, the Open Meetings and Open Records laws desperately NEED to be extended to government web sites. The internet allows citizens greater and real time access to their government and I’ve found Regional Mobility Authorities, MPOs, and TxDOT particularly lagging in posting important information on their web sites, like posting meeting minutes within a week, posting ALL upcoming public meetings/hearings (for TxDOT projects) including toll projects, and listing CURRENT email contact information to key decision makers at these agencies. Government can become vastly more efficient and save scads of time, paper, and money by simply posting public information on their web sites. Unfortunately, TxDOT, the RMAs, and MPOs have been attempting to broker secret concession agreements without public input and without public accountability under the radar screen. The public outrage over their actions puts them at odds with lawful, open, and transparent government. This is unacceptable and needs to be rectified immediately.

Thank you for your consideration. Please keep me apprised as to your Committee’s suggestions for Open Records and Open Meetings reform at the contact information below.

Regards,

Terri Hall
Regional Director
San Antonio Toll Party
18160 US Hwy 281 N, Suite 108-251
San Antonio, Texas 78232
http://www.SATollParty.com
terri@satollparty.com
(210) 275-0640

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