We recently submitted a few open record requests to our local government in Hood County, Texas. Interestingly enough, even though the default position of the government should be to freely furnish information that is requested by citizens, the default position with the Hood County government is to send all requests to the county attorney first. What does that mean? One might be left with the impression, What in the world are they trying to hide?
To be fair, open, and transparent, below a few of the requests we submitted so you can see for yourself:
- Each and every email sent by Kathy Davis (a/k/a Kathy Davis-Deaver) to James Deaver from January 1, 2015 to the present.
- Each and every email received by Kathy Davis (a/k/a Kathy Davis-Deaver) from James Deaver from January 1, 2015 to the present.
- Hood County Employee Manual provisions regarding employee usage of the email system on Hood County owned computers.
- All non-privileged emails between Lori Kaspar and Kathy Davis-Deaver from January 1, 2015 to the present..
- All non-privileged emails between Lori Kaspar and James Deaver from January 1, 2015 to the present.
To refresh your memory, Kathy Davis-Deaver is our County Treasurer (the one who keeps our money), James Deaver is a County Commissioner (one who spends our money) and Lori Kaspar is our County Attorney (the one who is running interference for the former two officials).
For the record, the following Texas Government Code section spells out the policy with which the government is supposed to comply regarding requests for information:
Sec. 552.001. POLICY; CONSTRUCTION. (a) 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 the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy. (Emphasis added).
(b) This chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information.
“Liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information . . . “ What does ‘liberally construed” mean? It means, if in doubt, the government is supposed to give it up.
The five (5) requests, above, simply ask for email communications between folks who are using government owned computers and government communication systems during the time they are on the job. The computers, the communication systems and the employees themselves are paid for by your tax dollars. These employees have no “expectation of privacy” any time they use the government system to email back and forth to each other.
Before we go any further, let us explore the “no expectation of privacy” concept. If you take a look at the Hood County Employee Manual, a manual that is quite lengthy, you will find that all employees are actually informed in writing they have no expectation of privacy when communicating with each other while they are on the job. In addition, the employees are required to sign a statement acknowledging they understand they have “no expectation of privacy” when using the government email system. (See “Hood County Responsible Use Technology Agreement for Employees.” Under the heading “PRIVACY,” it states – “No one can claim a right to privacy and to unrestricted speech in the use of the county’s systems.”). What that means is that when they are at work, on the clock, and doing the work they are hired to do, whatever email communications going back and forth between employees should be limited to work-related communications and should be open and available to the public at all times. Since all their communications are supposed to be work-related, all, not some, but all of that information should be freely discoverable by the public on request. It is too bad for them if someone decides to go rogue on her emails and starts asserting things she doesn’t really want the open public to see.
For your reading pleasure, I reprint in part an email I received from the Hood County Attorney, Lori Kaspar, expressing the county’s stance regarding some of our requests for records. Included is her excuse as to why the county is refusing to produce said records:
Dave – I got the CD with the emails you requested on it from our IT Department today. I’ve been reviewing it for the past several hours because there are close to 1000 emails to review.
There are several emails that I believe contain information confidential by law including employee health information protected by HIPAA. I am also waiting on an answer from our Personnel office regarding whether one employee has requested confidentiality of her personal information or not. I should have a reply by tomorrow.
I’m redacting the protected info and will have a redacted disk ready either tomorrow (Thursday) or Friday. I’m sending copies of both the complete and the redacted files to Attorney General Paxton for his review.
Just so you know, the County Attorney “redacted” nearly half of the 1,000 documents that were responsive to our request. Half of them. That’s 50 percent of them. In a society that expects its government to be an “Open Government” and transparent government, we should receive 99 percent of the information and documents we request, not 50 percent. I put this out there because you, the public, need to know that some folks in our government apparently do not want us to see what they are doing. You are free to draw your own conclusions as to the implications this presents.
Of course, Hillary Clinton decided that some 55,000 of her emails were “confidential” as well and did not want to give them up even though they were emails directly related to her position and her job. Why did Hillary Clinton not want to give up the 55,000 emails at issue? Because there may be information on those emails that could very well get her indicted for criminal activity, criminal activity that she may have been involved in while she was allegedly in the course and scope of her job as the Secretary of State. If she were to be indicted for some sort of criminal acts, it could lead to her eventual conviction for the same acts. “Indictments” and “convictions” are concepts I know our county attorney is quite familiar with.
So, I will close as I opened, What in the world are they trying to hide?
Would you like to know what they are trying to hide? I would. Stay tuned. We are going to give it a go to find out exactly what they are hiding.
Dave Eagle, February 1, 2016
Vice President Hood County TEA Party