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Discussion and Strategies Regarding the Texas Public Information Act The Texas A&M University System Office of General Counsel.

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Presentation on theme: "Discussion and Strategies Regarding the Texas Public Information Act The Texas A&M University System Office of General Counsel."— Presentation transcript:

1 Discussion and Strategies Regarding the Texas Public Information Act The Texas A&M University System Office of General Counsel

2 Agenda 1) Scope of the Texas Public Information Act and Statutory Deadlines 2) Notable Exceptions to Disclosure 3) Case Study 4) Strategies to Protect Your Information and Reduce Risk 2

3 Scope of the Texas Public Information Act (Chapter 552, Government Code) and Statutory Deadlines 3

4 The Texas Public Information Act (PIA) guarantees copies/access to “public information.” What is “public information?” In this chapter, “public information” means information that is collected, assembled, or maintained under a law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business: (1) by a governmental body; or (2) for a governmental body and the governmental body owns the information or has a right of access to it. 4

5 Information that is: collected, assembled, or maintained Under law/in connection with the transaction of official business (1) by a governmental body; or (2) for a governmental body and the governmental body owns the information or has a right of access to it. 5

6 Deadlines The Act imposes mandatory statutory deadlines on both the requestor and the governmental body as well as the Attorney General’s office. What is the deadline for providing public information to the requestor? PROMPTLY “An officer for public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication, or both on application by any person to the officer. In this subsection, ‘promptly’ means as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay.” Tex. Gov’t Code § (a). 6

7 The 10-business day deadline. Within 10 days after the receipt of a request, a governmental body must do one of the following: –Provide the requested information to the requestor –Inform the requestor that the requested information is being gathered and will be available to him by a specific date. Request an open records decision from the Attorney General and provide the requestor with a copy of the request to the Attorney General. OGC prepares and submits. 7

8 Deadlines, cont’d If the request to the Attorney General is not made by the 10 business day deadline, the information is presumed to be subject to disclosure and must be released to the requestor unless there is a compelling reason to withhold the information. Generally, the only acceptable “compelling reason” that the Attorney General will consider is that the information involves confidential information, and the privacy or proprietary interests of third parties. 8

9 More Deadlines The 15-day deadline. Within 15 business days after the receipt of a request for which an AG decision has been requested, the governmental body must submit –Written comments stating the reasons the information should be withheld –A copy of the public information request –Copies of the requested records, or representative samples if a voluminous amount of material has been requested. AG’s office provides decision, usually within 45 business days of receiving a request for a decision. 9

10 Cost Estimates If the charge for providing records to a requestor will exceed $40, we are required to provide the requestor with a cost estimate within 10 business days after our receipt of the request. If charges expected to exceed $100, we can require a deposit. This freezes and resets deadlines. The requestor has 10 business days beginning the day after the cost estimate is mailed to respond to the estimate. AG deadlines continue to run unless deposit is required. If no response is received, the request is considered withdrawn. The requestor has the right to complain to the Attorney General about a cost estimate and we are then required to explain and justify the method that was used to prepare the estimate. 10

11 General Process Recommendations - When your department receives a request… If received in person or by mail, send it to your institution’s public information officer/coordinator (PIO) ASAP. Your department must always be on the lookout for these requests. If request received by fax or , have the requestor send it directly to PIO (do not forward to PIO). 11

12 Exceptions to Disclosure 12

13 Exceptions to disclosure are either permissive or mandatory (confidential). We cannot decide to disclose confidential information. Usually, confidential information relates to a person’s privacy. Usually, an AG decision is required. Some exceptions allow withholding/redaction without a decision. 13

14 What is “Core Public Information?” Information that is always public unless confidential under the PIA or other law, usually defeating all permissive exceptions. (1) a completed report, audit, evaluation, or investigation made of, for, or by a governmental body, except as provided by Section ; (2) the name, sex, ethnicity, salary, title, and dates of employment of each employee and officer of a governmental body; (3) information in an account, voucher, or contract relating to the receipt or expenditure of public or other funds by a governmental body; (4) the name of each official and the final record of voting on all proceedings in a governmental body; (5) all working papers, research material, and information used to estimate the need for or expenditure of public funds or taxes by a governmental body, on completion of the estimate; (6) the name, place of business, and the name of the municipality to which local sales and use taxes are credited, if any, for the named person, of a person reporting or paying sales and use taxes under Chapter 151, Tax Code; 14

15 Core Public Information, Continued (7) a description of an agency's central and field organizations, including: (A) the established places at which the public may obtain information, submit information or requests, or obtain decisions; (B) the employees from whom the public may obtain information, submit information or requests, or obtain decisions; (C) in the case of a uniformed service, the members from whom the public may obtain information, submit information or requests, or obtain decisions; and (D) the methods by which the public may obtain information, submit information or requests, or obtain decisions; (8) a statement of the general course and method by which an agency's functions are channeled and determined, including the nature and requirements of all formal and informal policies and procedures; (9) a rule of procedure, a description of forms available or the places at which forms may be obtained, and instructions relating to the scope and content of all papers, reports, or examinations; 15

16 Core Public Information, Continued (10) a substantive rule of general applicability adopted or issued by an agency as authorized by law, and a statement of general policy or interpretation of general applicability formulated and adopted by an agency; (11) each amendment, revision, or repeal of information described by Subdivisions (7)-(10); (12) final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, and orders issued in the adjudication of cases; (13) a policy statement or interpretation that has been adopted or issued by an agency; (14) administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public; (15) information regarded as open to the public under an agency's policies; (16) information that is in a bill for attorney's fees and that is not privileged under the attorney-client privilege; (17) information that is also contained in a public court record; and (18) a settlement agreement to which a governmental body is a party. 16

17 Section – Information that is considered to be confidential under other law, either constitutional, statutory, or by a common law right to privacy. (CLP-person financial info, medical information, mental health, personal safety of member of public, etc.). Section – Certain confidential information in a personnel file (an employee date of birth) Section – Litigation/settlement negotiations involving state/political subdivision. Section Information giving an advantage to a competitor or bidder (Pending bid, contract, or competitive situation). Section Attorney/client privileged communications 17

18 Section – Information held by law enforcement agency/prosecutor dealing with detection, investigation, prosecution of crime if release would interfere with pending investigation or prosecution. Section – third party trade secrets, and commercial or financial information the disclosure of which would cause substantial competitive harm to the third party. (Confidential) Section Intra- and interagency memoranda or letters that would not be available to a party in litigation with your university (advice, opinions, recommendations on policymaking matters). 18

19 Section – Audit working papers Section and – A current/former official/employee’s home address, home telephone number, SSN, and whether the person has family members (IF elected, Confidential and NO AG decision). Section – Name/identifying information of donor of property (not amount and similar info). (Confidential) Section – Certain motor vehicle information, DL info and numbers, license plate numbers, etc. (Confidential, AG decision for some info) 19

20 Section Credit card, debit card, bank account numbers, etc. that can be used on their own or with other information to access and obtain money, goods and services. (Confidential, no AG decision) Section Certain addresses of members of the public that have been provided for the purpose of communicating with a governmental body. (Confidential, no AG decision) 20

21 Section Information relating to an employee or officer is excepted IF, “under the specific circumstances pertaining to the employee or officer, disclosure of the information would subject the employee or officer to a substantial threat of physical harm.” (Confidential) 21

22 Examples of “Confidential Under Other Law” (statutes) FERPA Education Code provisions (chapter 51) –Section information related to our research data/products/devices/processes with potential to be commercialized, or similar info from research sponsor. –Information that “would reveal the institution's plans or negotiations for commercialization or a proposed research agreement, contract, or grant, or that consists of unpublished research or data that may be commercialized, is not subject to Chapter 552, Government Code, unless the information has been published, is patented, or is otherwise subject to an executed license, sponsored research agreement, or research contract or grant.” 22

23 Education Code provisions, contd. Sections and – Personal identifying information maintained for institution’s emergency alert system (includes address, telephone numbers). 23

24 Section – Certain information related to institution/system compliance program. –Information revealing identity of person making report/seeking guidance/participated in investigation under compliance program is confidential. –Information revealing identity of person subject of allegation if report found to be unsubstantiated or without merit is confidential. –Pending investigation exception –System compliance info concerning member compliance processes. 24

25 Case Study 25

26 “I Request all s and text messages to or from Dr. Smith from September 1, 2010 to the present.” Personal s (to/from friends/family members, re: community service, religious issues, local/state/national politics)? P&T/Employment Issues? (Hiring docs, evals) s Sent/Received from Employee’s Private Account (Gmail, etc.)? Text messages? 26

27 Key Strategies to Protect Information and Reduce Risk 27

28 Key Strategies 1)Ask yourself: should I put this in writing (NYT test)? 2)Manage your NOW (Delete, Auto-delete, etc.). 3)Avoid using personal account(s) for business. 4)Segregate information relating to research with commercial potential (including potential to be published). 5)Develop a plan for quickly providing information in response to PIA request. 28

29 Contact information R. Brooks Moore Managing Counsel, Governance (979) (direct) 29


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