A government agency has two basic ways to slow down or avoid a legitimate public information request. It can either refer the request to the Texas Attorney General's Office, forcing Ken Paxton's employees to issue an opinion as to the request's validity and potentially pushing the date the request is fulfilled a month's worth of news cycles down the road, or it can claim that obtaining the request will be absurdly expensive.
Gawker recently sent a request to the city of McKinney for Eric Casebolt's records as well as any emails sent about Casebolt's behavior. Casebolt is the McKinney cop who resigned after he was filmed pulling a gun on a group of unarmed teenagers and taking down and pinning a 14-year-old girl with a knee to her back.
Last week, the city, through its law firm, finally got back to Andy Cush, the Gawker writer who requested the information. McKinney's estimated cost for the records? $79,229.09. Yes, freedom really isn't free, Texas' public information law really is hollow. Hey, government agency, want to bury your records from public view forever? Just store them in a way that makes them cost prohibitive to dig up. Translate them to Sanskrit, maybe. Or keep them on floppy discs accessible only by an Apple IIe. Whatever you do, don't take it upon yourselves to maintain records in a manner that is in keeping with the spirit of public information law, i.e. providing the public access to information it paid to create.
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The bulk of the costs, as explained by the city, are needed for the computer programmers who will be tasked with finding any emails regarding Casebolt sent before March 1, 2014. Any emails sent prior to that date, according to the city's attorney, are not in a format that city employees can search. As such, programmers will have to either "execute an existing program or create a new program" to retrieve the emails. The city estimates that doing so will take more than a year's worth of man hours, 2,251, to complete the task.
In January, the Morning News published an extensive survey of the public records procedures of North Texas municipalities and school districts. McKinney received an A from the paper.
Gawker is appealing the city's estimate, which, of course, will take quite a bit of time.