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Travis County challenges Paxton

Wednesday, April 20, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

The Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted to challenge in court an opinion issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office regarding information requested by a local activist. The ruling, handed down last month, declared that the county’s attempt to withhold the names of businesses participating in the county Justice Planning Department’s Workforce Development Services program was not in line with the Public Information Act. According to the Workforce Development Services website, the program helps “ex-offenders in Travis County seeking sustainable employment.” The site also notes, “Out of respect for employers’ privacy, the WDS program coordinator does not publicize which businesses are engaged with the program.” In December, local activist Zenobia Joseph, a frequent attendee and public communicant at Commissioners Court meetings, requested the names of the businesses that participate in the WDS program. County staff tried to withhold the information, citing several sections of the Public Information Act, but Joseph appealed to the AG’s office. On March 18, Assistant Attorney General Meredith Coffman signed off on a ruling that concluded, “The department must release the submitted information.” During the public communications section of Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting, Joseph asked County Judge Sarah Eckhardt whether the court intended to challenge the ruling. Eckhardt said that it is the court’s wish not to disclose the identities of employers participating in the WDS program “so that they can continue to do this work anonymously. That is their wish.” After the court’s afternoon executive session, the members voted 3-0-1 to challenge the ruling. Commissioner Margaret Gómez abstained, and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty was absent.

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