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Public Information Philosophy

"Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.  The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know.  The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

Texas Government Code, Chapter 552, Section 552.001

THE PUBLIC INFORMATION ACT

The Texas Government Code, Chapter 552, gives you the right to access government records, and an officer for public information and the officer's agent may not ask why you want them.

All government information is presumed to be available to the public.  Certain exceptions may apply to the disclosure of the information.  Government bodies shall promptly release requested information that is not confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision, or information for which an exception to disclosure has not been sought.

RIGHTS OF REQUESTORS

You have the right to:

  • Prompt access to information that is not confidential or otherwise protected;
  • Receive treatment equal to all other requestors, including accommodation in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements;
  • Receive certain kinds of information without exceptions, like the voting record of public officials, and other information;
  • Receive a written statement of estimated charges, when charges will exceed $40, in advance of work being started and opportunity to modify the request in response to the itemized statement;
  • Choose whether to inspect the requested information (most often at no charge), received copies of the information, or both;
  • A waiver or reduction of charges if the government body determines that access to the information primarily benefits the general public;
  • Receive a copy of the communication from the government body asking the Office of Attorney General for a ruling on whether the information can be withheld under one of the accepted exceptions, or if the communication discloses the requested information, a redacted copy;
  • Lodge a written complaint about overcharges for public information with the Texas Building and Procurement Commission.  Complaints of other possible violations may be filed with the county or district attorney of the county where the government body, other than a state agency, is located.  If the complaint is against the county or district attorney, the complaint must be filed with the Office of the Attorney General.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF GOVERNMENT BODIES

All government bodies responding to information requests have the responsibility to:

  • Establish reasonable procedures for inspecting or copying public information and inform requestors of these procedures;
  • Treat all requestors uniformly and shall give to the requestor all reasonable comfort and facility, including accommodation in accordance with ADA requirements;
  • Be informed about open records laws and educate employees on the requirements of those laws;
  • Inform requestors of the estimated charges greater then $40 and any changes in the estimates above 20% of the original estimate, and confirm that the requestor accepts the charges, as amended the request, or has sent a complaint of overcharges to the Texas Building and Procurement Commission, in writing before finalizing the request;
  • Inform the requestor if the information cannot be provided promptly and set a date and time to provide it within a reasonable time;
  • Request a ruling from the Office of Attorney General regarding any information the government body wishes to withhold, and send a copy of the request for ruling, or a redacted copy, to the requestor;
  • Segregate public information from information that may be withheld and provide that public information promptly;
  • Make a good faith attempt to inform third parties when their proprietary information is being requested from the governmental body;
  • Respond in writing to all written communication from the Texas Building and Procurement Commission regarding charges for the information.  Respond to the Office of the Attorney General regarding complaints about violations of the Act.

 

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