Weatherford Democrat

Columns

August 9, 2011

The logistics of public records

WEATHERFORD — After attending a Freedom of Information seminar on Thursday of last week, I’ve decided to dedicated my columns this week to ways that ordinary people can research public records.

Today, I’ll highlight some of the basics about public records.

Public records are pretty much anything you can think of that a government entity pays to produce, because they are using your tax dollars to produce that record.

So, for example, correspondence done via email between the city manager and his staff could be a public record. Why not? Tax dollars paid for the computer, the equipment, their Internet connection and their salaries. Some things may not be public —for example, employee personnel files — but other things are. For example, employee salaries, expense reports detailed budgets from the government entity and lists of the names and titles of all those employed by the government entity.

The number one question I get is, “Why publish public salaries?”

At the last paper I was at, we published all the postal employee salaries. We received death threats. We also received multiple lawsuit threats, even though these records are public and no real court challenge could be made.

Yes. This is a sensitive area: what people earn. But, it keeps public officials in check if we know how much they make. And, it keeps residents informed.

Someone once told me, “Well, why don’t you just check the records and not publish the salaries if they seem in line with what the private sector might make,” but my reply is, “Who am I to judge if the salaries are correct? That’s the job of the people.”

And, most people never find the time to check these records themselves. So, one of the main jobs of the media is to bring them to light.

If you decide to go after a public record yourself, you should know a few basics:

1. The government entity does not have to the right to know why you want the record. They may ask you anyway. This is an area where common sense comes into play. Maybe they are asking you in order to help narrow your search. If you go up and request all the emails the city manager has sent, that could be virtually thousands and take weeks, plus a ton of expense. So, maybe they just want to help you narrow down the date or subject matter. However, if you feel it’s being done as harassment, then you may have to file an official request.

2. Asking for public record can be done just by walking up and asking. However, the government entity may require that you do an official written request — or if you’re having trouble, your best option is to put the request in writing. There are tips on how to ask for information and how to write a letter on the Attorney General’s website, www.oag.state.tx.us. You can also get help from the Attorney General’s office at their toll-free hotline, 877-673-6839.

3. They can charge you. State law’s general rule about this is that they can charge you 10 cents a page (a double-sided single sheet counts as two pages). However, that can differ, depending on the record.

Tomorrow, I’ll go over the true expense of obtaining public records.

1
Text Only
Columns
  • The triumph of tarp

    One of our favorite political stories took place during Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign in 1964. A friend was standing outside a Goldwater rally when a woman burst from the room, tears streaming down her face.

    March 4, 2014

  • Yes, we want it; no, we don’t?

    Maybe our media will finally start filtering the noise. 

    March 4, 2014

  • The good news you likely haven't heard

    Do you like surprises? I have two surprises for you: At least 19 states already in 2014, nearly half, are posting budget surpluses. Yes, surpluses. The other surprise: Since Obama took office, the national deficit has been reduced by one-half. 

    February 11, 2014

  • The hand over the lens

    The top Super Bowl highlight was not Peyton Manning struggling or Renee Fleming singing or even that adorable puppy nuzzling a horse in the Budweiser commercial. It was Bill O’Reilly grilling Barack Obama.

    February 11, 2014

  • U.S. mayors forced to innovate

    I recently came across more proof that lawmakers blocking progress are weakening the institution of Congress: 

    Mayors from across the nation met in Washington, D.C., for three days last week to discuss a host of issues and possible solutions against a backdrop of congressional inaction. This came as President Obama stated his plans to use “a pen and a phone” to “make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need.” And further, voters are recognizing that the problem in Congress starts at the state level -- and many hope their legislatures will do something about it. 

    January 28, 2014

  • The Village Idiot — Class, but not least

    For Steve’s birthday, it was decided that no one could give him a gift that cost over a dollar. Not that we don’t like Steve, or that he isn’t worth more than a dollar, or that we’re extremely cheap (well, it could be that). It’s just that as grown-ups, who needs more stuff?

    November 29, 2013

  • Black Friday on Thanksgiving?

    Thanksgiving is a time set apart to thank God for all His blessings. It now appears that stores are trying to get a jump on Christmas shopping by beginning “Black Friday” on Thanksgiving Day! Our culture continues to push a secular agenda on all of us. Now the press of shopping is crowding out a time of personal reflection on the goodness of God.

    November 28, 2013

  • BYRON YORK: Obama, Dems kept mum about health plan

    The journalist Jonathan Cohn, an ardent supporter of Obamacare, recently wrote in The New Republic that problems with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act should be “an opportunity to have a serious conversation about the law’s trade-offs — the one that should have happened a while ago.”

    November 26, 2013

  • DONNA BRAZILE: A gift of practical idealism

    I was only 3 when President John F. Kennedy died, but I’ll never forget what happened that day as my grandmother and others cried. You see, we were Catholics living down in the then-segregated Deep South. Kennedy was our hope for a better tomorrow.

    November 26, 2013

  • The way we were

    I can hear in my mind’s ear Barbra Streisand’s beautifully haunting song “The Way We Were.” It was a nostalgic, wistful song in a movie of the same name. But sometimes, like now, it reminds me of how far we’ve come.

    November 19, 2013

Must Read
Top News
House Ads
AP Video
Deadly Avalanche Sweeps Slopes of Mount Everest Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Mayor Rob Ford Launches Re-election Campaign Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez Dead at 87 Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Crew Criticized Over Handling of Ferry Disaster Agreement Reached to Calm Ukraine Tensions Raw: Pope Francis Performs Pre-easter Ritual Boston Bombing Survivors One Year Later Sister of Slain MIT Officer Reflects on Bombing