The city of Dallas has filed a lawsuit against the state’s Office of the Attorney General to keep the mayor’s public calendar out of public view. The three-page petition was submitted November 25 in Travis County. You’ll find it here, but there’s not much to it.
This stems from an open records request I submitted August 21, wanting to fact check Mayor Eric Johnson’s claim that he hadn’t talked to the chief of police while she abruptly left her post on medical leave. A few days later, Johnson announced his new gig as a partner at Locke Lord.
The city has released the calendars of public officials before. Interim City Attorney Christopher Caso’s 2019 slate went to a journalist just last month, for instance. But when I requested the mayor’s calendar, the city asked the Attorney General for an opinion on whether they had to give it up, sending a representative sample of the calendar to the state.
In asserting that it should be private, the City Attorney’s Office cited a previous open records ruling that said information can be withheld when it “would endanger the personal safety of public employees.” The office asked for the mayor’s calendar to be withheld in its entirety, including past events.
The AG disagreed on all fronts, ordering the calendar released in full. In doing so, it noted the city had redacted parts of its representative sample that it submitted to the state for review. That’s not the way it works. “We are unable to discern the nature of the redacted information,” the AG wrote, ordering the redacted information and all the rest of it be made public. Batting back the city’s safety argument, the AG rolled out its own case law, which concludes, “vague assertions of risk will not carry the day.”
Usually when these rulings are issued, the agencies in question listen. Very rarely, we see them exercise their other option. That’s what we see here: the city headed to court to keep the calendar from disclosure.
Surely this would require a vote from City Council, right? Nope. The city charter allows our attorney to file suit without approval. I have asked Caso for comment. In particular, I’m curious whether the decision to sue was his office’s alone or if he came to it in consultation with Johnson or others at City Hall. The mayor’s office declined to comment. I’ll update if I hear from Caso.
If this is all a delay strategy, it is, unfortunately, a good one. (It also comes at the expense of the taxpayer.) Back in March, the city of Irving sued the AG’s office to keep under wraps some documents related to its incentive deal with McKesson. Nine months later, we’re still waiting on a resolution.