Something’s brewing in the Collin County Commissioners Court. Corbett Howard is running against Joe Jaynes for a commissioner’s seat. They are both Republicans, but it looks to me like Howard is the proven conservative, mainly because his website says he’s the proven conservative, with the underline. Well, Howard’s campaign manager, along with three other Republicans, has written a letter to the state AG claiming that they aren’t playing fair in Collin County when it comes to answering open records requests. The letter is after the jump:
January 17, 2008
The Honorable Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas
P.O. Box 12548
Austin, TX 78711-2548
Dear Attorney General Abbott:
We are writing to express our concerns about possible violations of the Texas Public Information Act by Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes and the Collin County Public Information Office. This letter serves as our request for a formal and in-depth investigation into the incomplete responses to open records requests that we have made regarding Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes.
On November 30 and December 7, 2007, a series of open records requests pertaining to Collin County Commissioner Joe Jaynes were made. In each request, we believe we were ignored or provided with incomplete, inaccurate and/or misleading responses.
Based on the limited responses we have received, we have reason to believe Commissioner Joe Jaynes and the Collin County Public Information Office are not being forthright, possibly in an attempt to protect Commissioner Joe Jaynes, and in violation of the Texas Public Information Act.
While we are attaching a copy of each of our open records requests, and the subsequent responses from the Public Information Office, below is a summary of our requests and the responses provided by Collin County:
On November 30, 2007, we requested and received the following:
“A copy of all emails from the Collin County and personal emails of Commissioner Joe Jaynes during the last 6 months.”
“I will notify you as soon as that task is completed and make those messages available to you on a CD for a nominal charge of $1. Please keep in mind that this response only involves email traffic of Mr. Jaynes maintained by the county. We do not have access nor responsibility for any personal email accounts that he may maintain.” (December 12, 2007 – via email from the Public Information Officer)
Note: We verbally informed the County that we also would like to see all email on personal computers that dealt only with county business. It is our understanding that emails dealing with county business are subject to public request even if conducted on a home or personal computer or through personal email address. Based on the partial list of emails we have received from Jaynes’ county computer, he repeatedly sends information regarding county business to his personal email and computer.
“Any documents related to or detailing all votes or public comments by Commissioner Joe Jaynes involving property tax cuts, property tax increases or increases in County fees.”
“This request spans 10 years of public service, and the county has no sorting or indexed searching capability sophisticated enough to quickly retrieve this type of information with any certainty. However, we will make a terminal here in the old courthouse available to you, and show you how to search the agenda software for possible documents related to this request.” (December 12, 2007 – via email from the Public Information Officer)
Note: We find it difficult to accept this response. The County government is keenly aware of all votes that deal with taxing and budgetary issues as this process in the Commissioner’s Court takes place at the same time each year.
On December 7, 2007, we requested and received the following:
“Any documents that may pertain to any Collin County employee or vendor complaints against County Commissioner Joe Jaynes during his service on the Commissioners Court.”
“Mr. Jaynes has checked his correspondence files and found nothing of that nature that may not already show up in his email correspondence files which are being released to you per your Nov. 30, 2007 public information request.” (December 20, 2007 – via fax from the Public Information Officer)
Note: We find this response perhaps to be the most ludicrous. The PIO simply asked Commissioner Jaynes if during his time of service he had ever had a complaint filed against him by a County employee or vendor. There was absolutely no research done on the part of the PIO. We know for a fact that complaints have been filed against Commissioner Jaynes as part of a federal lawsuit and to suggest that such a matter does not constitute a complaint is a mockery of the Texas Public Records Act.
“Any documents pertaining to Collin County funds used to pay the law school tuition and books for Commissioner Joe Jaynes, including a grand total of all County funds used collectively to pay his law school tuition and books.”
“Since these files are located in our Human Resources Department, the Auditor’s office is producing these files and I will notify you as soon as we have received these copies.” (December 20, 2007 – via fax from the Public Information Officer)
Note: We have received the requested information.
“Any documents related to or detailing all votes or public comments by Commissioner Joe Jaynes involving the final County budget.”
“This involves a 10 year span of public service, and the county has no sorting or indexed searching capabilities sophisticated enough to quickly retrieve this type of information with any certainty. However, we will make a terminal here in the old courthouse available to you, and show you the agenda software for possible documents related to this request.” (December 20, 2007 – via fax from the Public Information Officer)
Note: Again, this is a disturbing response. Even if votes or public comments by Commissioner Jaynes from 10 years ago are difficult to locate, the most recent votes should be readily available. These discussions take place around the same time each year and should be easy to locate.
“Any documents or copies of notes that Commissioner Joe Jaynes may have utilized during his discussions over moving the extension of the North Dallas Toll Road into Denton County.”
“Other than what might be found in the Commissioner Court packet on a given day, which is available online, Mr. Jaynes does not have any other material regarding this matter.” (December 20, 2007 – via fax from the Public Information Officer)
Note: Again, we find it extremely difficult to accept this response. Commissioner Joe Jaynes passionately advocated for the County Commissioner’s Court to move a portion of the Dallas North Tollway Extension out of Collin County and into Denton County. His request for this move was denied by a 4-1 vote of his colleagues on the Commissioner’s Court. We do not accept their claim that the Commissioner did not take any notes or utilize governmental documents on this matter.
Overall, the responses provided by Commissioner Joe Jaynes and the Collin County PIO appear to be untruthful, incomplete, and not in compliance with the spirit of the Texas Public Information Act.
We find it equally troublesome that Collin County Judge Keith Self was not notified of our two formal requests. As clearly indicated on the attached copies of our requests, we included Judge Self in the list of County officials we sent the requests to. At no time in this process was Judge Self made aware of our requests.
The actions of Commissioner Joe Jaynes and the Collin County Public Information Office can hardly demonstrate transparent, open and accessible government. Individually, the responses to each request to receive County information could be considered incomplete. Collectively, their responses could be considered misleading.
Therefore, we are asking you to launch an official investigation into why Commissioner Joe Jaynes and the Collin County Public Information Office did not accurately and in detail respond to our public information requests.