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Aleshire questions public information rules

Thursday, March 16, 2017 by Jo Clifton

When the city’s public information manager sent out a press release detailing procedures for requesting public information, she probably thought her intentions were clear. That was not the case, however. The update to the public information request procedure gives two email addresses for requests seeking records from the city. There is the standard request, which is to go to public.information@austintexas.gov, and there is the request for Austin Police Department records, which is to go to management.records@austintexas.gov. The press release says, “Requests sent to any other email at the city of Austin will not constitute an official records request. All city staff have been instructed to respond to requests and direct people to the proper email addresses.” Truly, those are fighting words to attorney and Texas Public Information Act expert Bill Aleshire. Aleshire, on behalf of his client the Austin Bulldog, sent a letter to City Attorney Anne Morgan explaining that City Council had not adopted such a procedure and that only Council could do so. Further, he interpreted the press release to mean that only requests sent to the appropriate email address would be considered “official” requests. But that is not what the city meant at all, according to public information spokesperson Alicia Dean. She said, “Nothing has changed in the PIR process.” But the city is trying to streamline its process to expedite responses. According to Dean, the city receives about 30,000 requests each year for information about APD and only about 6,000 requests for nonpolice matters. She said some people submit as many as 20 identical requests to different people in the city, instead of sending the request to the appropriate email address. That just slows down the process, because city employees have to sift through each one of those to make sure that they are not the same. Dean assured the Austin Monitor that city employees have been advised to pass on any public information requests they receive to the correct email address and to inform the requester about their actions. However, it should be noted that the press release does not say that.

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