Lack of transparency in Houston

Houston, TX – I’m posting a link to a great article written by Craig Malisow with the Houston Press.  In it he exposes huge problems within Annise Parker’s administration, and what I feel is the city/Annise Parker illegally withholding documents from the public.  

Click here to read the article.    It is shocking.  

I am mentioned in the article because I am one of many people who have been experiencing the same problems when I have requested public records relating to BARC (Houston’s pound).   I have been fighting with the city over documents related to pet transports, and the MILLIONS being paid to RPM, for over 1 1/2 years.  The city is using our tax dollars to pay for these transports and I believe that these are public records. But, the city attorney’s office is using every trick they can find to try to hide these records.

After my first Public Information Request (PIR), Tonia, the person who handles PIRs for the city, claimed that the city did not have any relevant records.  None.  I knew that this was not true because any city expenditure over $50,000 has to be approved by city council.  So, there had to be documents that were given to city council so that they could vote on it.  I explained this to Tonia and explained that she must not haved searched in all of the locations that records would logically exist—as Texas law requires.   I went round and round with Tonia about this.  I also explained that I had seen relevant documents, so I knew that city employees did, in fact, have relevant documents in its posession.  But, Tonia kept telling me that Greg Damianoff said that there were no records.  
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So, contrary to what Texas law requires, Tonia asked only ONE city employee if records existed.  Then, that one employee, i.e. BARC’s director, Greg Daminaoff lied and said no records existed.
So, I ended up appealing the city’s denials/lies 3 times to the Texas Attoney General’s office.   BARC/COH sent 1 or 2 documents after each of my appeals, and they were only documents that I had already told them I had seen.
Later, a reporter gave me a number of RPM invoices.  These documents were clearly relevant to my PIR, yet the city had not produced those documents to me.  So, I filed another appeal with the Texas AG’s office.  The city attorney’s office claimed that they did not have the records at the time that they received my request.  I believe this was a lie because 2 of the invoices were dated 2 months earlier than my original PIR and many were dated after my many appeals to the Texas Ag’s office.
So, I later did another PIR for the same records.  Then, Tonia sent me an estimate saying that it would cost $3,800 to produce the records to me.  This amounts to THIRTY ONE eight-hour days’ worth of work to gather the documents.  This is utterly absurd even for the slowest of city employees.
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The next day I got a copy of letter from the city’s legal dept. to the Texas AG saying that documents responsive to my request related to “bioterrorism”, among other things, and should be exempt from the public.   Clearly, the city attorney was throwing everything but the kitchen sink into their quest to withhold the documents from me.  

A few days later, I got a letter from the city’s legal dept saying the documents were “attorney-client privilege” and should be exempt from production to the public.

If the city is so proud of this transport program, as they claim, then why are they working SO hard to keep records hidden from the public?  

Why shouldn’t the public have a right to know exactly how their tax dollars are spent?  
And why shouldn’t we animal lovers have a right to know what is happening to the thousands of pets that are being shipped off to other states? 
 
Apparently, Annise Parker and her administration didn’t think that the public has the right to know about anything going on at the city….. even pet transports that our tax dollars are funding.
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The Texas Attorney General ruled that the City of Houston must produce most of the records that they claimed were “attorney/client” privileged.  
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I’m still waiting on a ruling regarding the absurd $3,800 estimate to produce the rest of the documents.
Parker, and her administration, did not know the meaning of the word transparency and the public’s right to know.   Unfortunately, some of those same people still work at the city.  
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And unfortunately, Parker will likely run for another office.  A Chronicle article recently reported that she was considering running for Harris County Commissioner or Harris County Judge, if Ed Emmett retires.

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Heaven help the shelter pets at Harris County animal control if that happens.  We have 6 years of proof that she will not make wise or life saving decisions when it comes to shelter pets….. and that she will work really hard to cover up that fact, even if it means skirting the law.  

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4 responses

  1. Hi Bett,

    I had a similar problem with TLAC while Dorinda Pulliam was still there. First, did you know Texas has volunteer attorneys who will help you draft a FOI letter? If you do not use EXACTLY the correct phrasing they can say there are no responsive records. Not the correct phrasing for a FOI, but the correct phrasing for that exact FOI. Secondly, in lieu of the city providing documents to you if they are charging some ungodly amount, you can request to examine them at city hall. I actually took a day off work, bought a personal copier (around $100, much less than they wanted to copy them themselves), took it to City Hall along with food and drink, and stayed there for a whole day copying the relevant records. If you have any questions let me know.

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  2. The monthly at-a-glance reports on the BARC website look like they show $ transferred to RPM each month. There are some months I cant pull up, and the Calendar Year totals don’t come up either. But most months show a specific dollar amount transferred to RPM. Ref http://www.houstontx.gov/barc/at_a_glance.html For example, here is December 2015, showing $35,100 to RPM: http://www.houstontx.gov/barc/ataglance/ataglance-2015december.pdf Here is July 2015 showing $30, 675 to RPM: http://www.houstontx.gov/barc/ataglance/ataglance-2015july.pdf And somewhere else on their website, I read that they state clearly that they pay $75 per animal to RPM.

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    • Thanks for the information Marie, but those documents do not contain the information that I am looking for. Also, just because some information in posted on their website, does not excuse the fact that the city/Parker have been withholding public records that should have been produced to me, and other people. There is no excuse for not following the law, especially when she is a public official that is being paid with our tax dollars.

      I also think that people should be aware of what she did while in office because she will probably run for another office. The Chronicle reported that she was considering running for Harris County Commissioner or County Judge. If so, she is likely to skirt the law there as well. And Harris County has a pound that is killing around 80% of all animals. In 6 years, she did not keep her promises to do everything in her power to transform Houston to a No Kill city. Why should we expect that she will do anything differently if elected to a different office?

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