By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
Not so public:Buzz's congratulations go out to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott for winning the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas' James Madison Award for his work on behalf of open government.
Good for you, General Abbott, now about those Dallas Observer public records requests...
"Texas functions best when public officials recognize that government does not belong to them but to the people," Abbott said in a news release.
Cool. Guess that means we'll be getting a favorable opinion on those requests any day now, right?
Here's the deal: Observer staffer Robert Wilonsky filed a request with the city of Dallas to see the complete 2003-2004 City Plan Commission minutes and voting records. He also asked for copies of the financial disclosure forms of Plan Commissioner Melvin Traylor and any conflict of interest forms given to the city by Traylor. Pretty basic info, we thought, but in this case the city attorney's office shared Wilonsky's request with the FBI, and the FBI asked that all those publicrecords be put back in the dark. The fibbies don't want anyone else to see the disclosure or conflict of interest forms because it might interfere with their investigation into possible corruption at City Hall.
Now, understand, we didn't ask the FBI for diddly, and if Wilonsky had asked for the same records the day before the FBI investigation, everything probably would have been square. But apparently, the FBI can make secret what was once public.
A spokesman for Abbott's office says that Texas' public information law provides for exemptions for "information held by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor that deals with the detection, investigation or prosecution of crime" if release would interfere with those processes. Buzz suggested that the agency "holding" the documents in this case is the city, and that the FBI just wanted to get a look at them, too, but the AG's spokesman didn't buy that. If a police agency wants to look at a public record, then they can keep anyone else from seeing it, too, the argument goes. We wonder, if the FBI were investigating the city for violations of someone's Fourth Amendment rights, could we also be denied copies of the Constitution?
We haven't had a formal ruling from Abbott's office, but we're still mildly hopeful. The guy is an award winner for this stuff, after all. --Patrick Williams