Texas Public Information Act Resources
- Office of the Attorney General’s Open Government pages
- How to Request Public Information
- Texas Public Information Act Made Easy (PDF, 271K)
- The Texas Public Information Act at a Glance (PDF, 14K)
- 2008 Public Information Act Handbook (PDF, 1.6M)
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Friendswood Moves Information Online to Help Citizens
The City of Friendswood is among several Texas municipalities turning to new Web link software to avoid becoming road kill on the public records lane of the Information Superhighway.
Texans have a government-mandated right under the Public Information Act to seek even some of the minutest details of day-to-day state, county and local government operations. Friendswood’s city secretary says that’s just what information-seekers will get before the end of 2009.
“Anything approved by the city council will be uploaded on the Web,” says Delores McKenzie, who became city secretary in 1976. “You don’t even have to ask – it’ll be there.”
Governmental agencies can withhold this information if they comply with the applicable provisions of Chapter 552, Government Code. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has final say about what’s public information, and publishes a PIA Handbook.
Friendswood placed a sample Public Information Act (or Open Records) request letter on its Web site five years ago, and experienced a surge in requests for public information. The city turned to the Internet to manage the requests in a way that reduced the number of staff hours tied up with responding to them. Documents and records from all meetings, as well as contracts, real estate transactions, liens and other public information are scanned and posted on the city’s Web site.
McKenzie says the new Web link system should be operational by the end of 2009. Ultimately, city officials plan to have most everything from car titles, to meeting minutes to lawsuits – dating back to Friendswood’s incorporation in 1961 – on the Internet.
“Virtually every document the city has will be available, and it will be searchable and retrievable,” McKenzie says. “If someone calls and asks if we have a copy of contract ‘X,’ from Aug. 8, 1988, we’ll be able to say ‘It’s available online. Do you have a computer?’ And we can walk them through it.”
Government officials who are subject to the PIA must take at least one hour of training within 90 days of assuming their duties or designate the government body’s public information coordinator to be trained on their behalf.
The Office of the Attorney General provides free open government training.
A request is not required to be in any specific format or on a government-provided form. Information on details of filing a request and reviewing the information is available on the OAG’s Web site. A brief synopsis and a comprehensive handbook are also available.
Public access to information is vital to an accountable, citizen-centered government. It is an effective tool for everyone who wants a better understanding of the operation of government. Also, a citizen’s right-to-know fosters public accountability, prevents abuses of power and promotes trust in government.
McKenzie says Friendswood’s police department and courts began posting their public records earlier in 2009.
“City secretaries – we talk,” McKenzie says. “We heard about the system, talked to one of our vendors, checked it out and decided to use it. Friendswood isn’t on the cutting edge on this, but we’re in front of the pack.”
Procedures for Public Information Compliance
- Choose a compliance coordinator. Identify a staff person as the public information officer, responsible for becoming familiar with the Public Information Act and obtaining training provided by the OAG or other source.
- Post signs. Properly post the required open records posters in the local government’s administrative office that inform the public of the right to access information.
- Monitor training. Ensure that public officials complete the open government training required by the Act or designate a public information coordinator with primary responsibility to process requests. Maintain and make available for inspection records of all training and designations.
Make a policy. Public officials may elect whether to allow public access to the information in the custody of the governmental body that relates to the public official’s home address, home telephone number, Social Security number or family information. Governmental agencies can withhold this information if they comply with Senate Bill 1068.