Photo by Kelsey Shoemaker.

Local Government

Dallas Might Just Be the Most Secretive City in Texas

A report shows the city files more lawsuits blocking the release of records than any agency in the state. A quick check shows it's happening even more frequently this year.

We reported two weeks ago that the city of Dallas will sue to keep Mayor Eric Johnson’s calendar under wraps. It’s far from the first time the city has taken to a Travis County courtroom to conceal public records.

In fact, since 2015, no city or agency in Texas has done it more often, according to an investigation published yesterday by Austin-based KXAN. The TV station reports that Dallas filed 20 such lawsuits against Texas’ Office of the Attorney General over that span. The subject of KXAN’s reporting, small-town Hutto, filed 17. Nobody else broke double digits. Austin filed two.

A quick check with the Travis County District Clerk shows we’re trending even further in the wrong direction. The city has filed suit against the AG eight times since May, each of them contesting a state ruling that the city hand over the public records. In all of 2019, Ken Paxton’s office has been the subject of 11 lawsuits filed by the city of Dallas.

These lawsuits don’t just block the public from information the state has deemed to be rightfully theirs. They cost taxpayers money.

And they happen as the city’s last defense against information it does not want to release. When journalists or other members of the public file requests for public records that the city believes to be exempt from disclosure, the city can appeal to the AG’s office for a ruling. If the office rules the records are public, the city has to release them. Its only other course of action is to file a lawsuit against the AG’s office claiming it ruled in error. Agencies outside 1500 Marilla rarely take this step.

In the case of Johnson’s calendar: after we asked for it, the city appealed to the AG. In so doing, it claimed releasing this kind of information endangers the lives of public employees (namely, Johnson). The AG disagreed, ruling that it should be released in full. Interim City Attorney Christopher Caso, who took over in mid-2018, filed suit against Paxton’s office on November 25. The AG has yet to file an answer.

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