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Open Records Now Less Open at Elections Department Thanks to District Attorney's Office

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When we stopped by the Elections Department Friday afternoon to speak with newly appointed Elections Administrator Toni Pippens-Poole, something odd happened. As we've done numerous times before, we pulled the campaign finance reports for all five members of the commissioners court and the district attorney. And, as we've done plenty of times in the past, we asked for copies of some. In this particular case, we wanted copies of District Attorney Craig Watkins's most recent filing.

This had previously been a rather simple request. Copies would be made. We'd pay our 10 cents a copy. Then we'd be on our way.

Not this time.

This time, we were told to wait for our request to filter through the District Attorney's Office. When everything was in order, the DA's office would get back to us.

Huh?

As Cheryl Childress, the polling location clerk at the Elections Department, told us, "Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger."

Childress said she didn't know why the policy was changed, only that it was a new policy implemented a few months ago, so we contacted Jamille Bradfield, Watkins's spokesperson, for an explanation, and she e-mailed us the following statement.

It's my understanding that there is no policy specific to requests for campaign finance reports. This type of request is treated like any other public information request received by a county department. In accordance with the Dallas County Code (see below), all records/information requests are handled by the Civil Division at the District Attorney's Office.

Sec. 74-134. Procedures. Upon receipt of a request to view or have copied information which may be excepted from disclosure, a department head, official or county employee should forward the request to the civil section of the district attorney's office immediately.

Yesterday, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Ben Stool spent his time crafting a letter to us in which he says our 59 pages are ready. But instead of charging us $5.90, he tacked on $3.75 for "personnel time" and 75 cents for "overhead."

Of course, it's not the money that's a concern. It's the process. Why does Craig Watkins want to make it so tough for people to get a look-see at open records?

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