City Council Using Open Records Requests To See What Members Are Saying About Them Behind Their Backs

from the all-hail-the-new-transparency dept

El Paso's (TX) government keeps screwing around with local public records laws… and for some truly unexpected reasons.

First, the normal stuff. A city council member seems to be toying with the idea of limiting public access to records, starting out with those many members the public might agree shouldn't be allowed to do much of anything.

The El Paso City Council stepped back from a hot and slick slope Tuesday afternoon, killing a proposal to deny open records to people with a felony or a single kind of misdemeanor conviction.
Most convicts already have diminished rights, depending on their convictions. Denying open records to ex-cons or those in prison denies them access to justice. It doesn't happen often, but prisoners have been able to have their cases reheard by uncovering prosecutorial misconduct through FOIA requests. And let's not forget that a man imprisoned for tax fraud blew the lid off law enforcement's use of Stingray devices while still behind bars, thanks to incessant FOIA requests.

The step back from the slope was one of pure capitulation: council member Emma Acosta never tabled the motion. Apparently she was well-aware the discriminatory suggestion wouldn't survive a challenge. She instead proposed that telephone numbers of city employees should be redacted and her "no criminals allowed" suggestion was removed from the agenda.

As Watchdog.org points out, this new public records activity follows an outside investigation into the city's withholding of documents requested by the El Paso Times.
An outside investigator found it "problematic" that the city's public information officer determined which documents should have been released to the El Paso Times under an open records request the newspaper filed last year.

The public information officer, Juli Lozano, withheld two documents that other city officials had said were responsive to a Times request for records related to projects that were requested by City Council members, according to a report from Austin attorney Ross Fischer that was made public Wednesday.
But the best action of all occurred late last fall. Acosta, who proposed the questionable ban on convicted criminals requesting public records, managed to pass a measure that forces any public official making public records request to publicly disclose what was requested and how much it cost for the city to fulfill. This only sounds like a step towards greater accountability.
While Acosta insisted her measure was designed to increase transparency, opponents said it was designed to inhibit city officials from doing records checks on one another in a toxic climate of internal politics.

The internal toxicity surfaced last month with council members calling one another liars and making records requests to read the text messages between rival council members.
This was solved in the most self-serving fashion, which, coincidentally, also worked out best for the public.
The council decided, unanimously, to solve the problem by prohibiting the mayor and one another from using all electronic devices, including cell phones, during council meetings.
Now, if only they would agree to stop using them at all to conduct official business. The use of personal devices and accounts to keep records from the public is a government favorite. It doesn't always work, but it does make searching for records more difficult and almost always ensures a lawsuit (or an investigation) will be part of the extremely-protracted request fulfillment.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: city council, el paso, open records, texas


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2016 @ 4:52am

    Ex-cons are a lower class of people than the rest of American citizens, do the time and then pay for the crime the rest of your life. How christian of you America. I know you will be happy with Donald or Hillary.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2016 @ 5:02am

      Re:

      Lots of them didn't actually "do the crime", they were force fed a plea deal because those in power think spending money on defense of the public is a huge waste. Apparently, that money is better spent by giving it to corporations.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Apr 2016 @ 7:00am

      Re:

      yes, excellent point, just one of a million ways we do NOT allow convicted people to regain their stature in society, but keep screwing them over such that they are funneled back into the prison industrial komplex

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.