SOS files criminal charge against Daugherty over SH45 SW information
Tuesday, March 18, 2014 by Jo Clifton
Bill Bunch, executive director of the Save Our Springs Alliance, filed a criminal complaint Monday against Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty. The complaint signed by Bunch was filed on behalf of SOS with County Attorney David Escamilla.
SOS alleges that the Precinct 3 Commissioner destroyed, removed or altered public information in his possession related to the extension of State Highway 45 Southwest. In the complaint, SOS maintains that the information “is of considerable interest and importance to the community. (SOS believes) that Commissioner Daugherty is not taking action to remedy these apparent and continuing violations” of the Texas Public Information Act.
Travis County Commissioners are set to vote on providing funding for the controversial toll road project today. If the matter is not postponed, it seems likely that a majority of commissioners will vote in favor of putting up $15 million for the extension of the road. SOS has worked for years to prevent the highway’s construction since it runs across sensitive portions of the Barton Springs Zone of the Edwards Aquifer.
Bunch said his timing in filing the complaint the day before the vote was coincidental.
“We were preparing this anyway. We were going to file it regardless,” Bunch told the Monitor. “We didn’t have any say-so in Daugherty pushing this forward. We think it’s unfortunate. It should have been postponed until he produces the public information we requested.”
Daugherty, contacted by phone late Monday afternoon, denied that he knowingly violated any aspect of the Public Information Act, and called the SOS complaint “nothing more than Bill Bunch trying everything in his power to stop the building of State Highway 45 Southwest. It just a rehash of the same stuff they have been saying year after year about this project.”
The commissioner did admit that he has deleted text messages and emails from his Travis County and personal accounts related to SH45 SW – a key point in the SOS complaint – but said that he believed those messages were held on a server and could be retrieved whenever necessary. He also denied withholding materials requested by Bunch and SOS through the Texas Public Information Act.
Bunch is asking Escamilla to investigate and possibly prosecute Daugherty. The environmental group on two occasions last year asked Daugherty for emails and text messages related to his chairmanship of a Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization subcommittee on the contested highway. But SOS says the commissioner failed to adequately respond.
SOS filed a civil suit against Daugherty in November in an attempt to get the requested information. Following the filing of that suit, Bunch says, the group did get some of the previously requested documents but not all. The group deposed Daugherty Feb. 20 and part of its allegations are related to admissions Daugherty made during that deposition.
“He admitted to deleting emails. He admitted to not really looking for text messages that were responsive to our request. He admitted to not producing documents that were responsive to our May request and then tried to slip them in on our November request,” Bunch said. “So there’s admissions that he both attempted to destroy public information and that he’s not produced public information that was properly requested.”
Daugherty sees it differently.
“I am fully compliant with all requests for information made to me,” Daugherty said. “And I am ready and willing to assist Mr. Bunch and the SOS in finding anything they have requested.”
However, despite having served as a commissioner from 2002 to 2008, and being re-elected in 2012, he seemed to not have a clear understanding of the requirements under Texas law that all official communications by public officials must be preserved.
“I have deleted messages from my computer and my cellphone,” he said. “I have cleaned my phone out on several occasions just like everyone else does. I can’t tell if anything I deleted had anything to do with SH 45 Southwest. But I believed that – though I don’t know how to do it – that our computer people could get all that off the servers.”
He added, “I will assist them in finding anything that we needed to keep, though I would be very surprised if there is anything in there that they want.”
He also denied knowing that as chair of a public body, his CAMPO committee on SH 45SW was required to post agendas with the date and place of the meeting, hold meetings in public and maintain a set of minutes on what was discussed.
Also in his comments, Daugherty dismissed the SOS suit as merely another attempt to delay the two-decades-old project.
“I am totally blown away by the fact that 17 years ago, the voters in Travis County overwhelmingly approved building this road,” he said. “Yet they continue to try and block the project from going forward.”
Because the County Attorney’s Office represents Travis County, the general practice is to appoint a special prosecutor to handle matters related to county officials. Escamilla has already done that with a complaint Bunch filed against County Judge Sam Biscoe for allegedly failing to file financial disclosure documents.
Escamilla declined to comment on the matter Monday but he is likely to do the same with this complaint.
Assistant County Attorneys Anthony Nelson and Andrew Williams represented Daugherty during the February deposition.
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