Tuesday, July 15, 2008

AG Abbott disregards Public Information Act to conceal Governor's daily schedule

While this isn't a criminal justice story, I can't help but indulge in an off-topic post to express disapprobation at the Attorney General's blatant disregard for their own open records standards to allow Governor Rick Perry to conceal his personal schedule from the public.

Last week Attorney General Greg Abbott's office approved a request by Governor Perry's staff (see the July 10 letter ruling) to conceal the Governor's prospective daily schedule from an Austin TV station, even with times and locations omitted, citing "special circumstances" under the Public Information Act in order to protect Perry's "privacy rights."

I've received appointment calendar information from public officials in numerous open records requests over the last two decades, so I'm fairly familiar with the historic standard surrounding such information, which the AG letter articulated quite adequately:
This office considers "special circumstances" to refer to a very narrow set of situations in which the release of information would likely cause someone to face "an imminent threat of physical danger." .... Such "special circumstances" do not include "a generalized and speculative fear of harassment or retribution."
So how does releasing the Governor's schedule (with the time and locations omitted) create an imminent threat of harm? Here's the explanation given for how that works:
The governor asserts that the information at issue must be withheld because the privacy rights of the Governor include the right to be safe from physical harm. The governor states that, "the subject matter of some events inherently reveals the time and location of the event." For example, the governor states that "if only 'Aggie Muster 2008' is listed for a particular day, one could quickly determine the location and time of the annual Aggie Muster." Additionally, the governor states that "by providing a schedule to the requestor with the location and times redacted, the order of Governor Perry's day would still be revealed." The governor explains that "[b]y doing research to determine the location and time of each item on the schedule, combined with the order of his day being revealed, it would be very easy to determine when and where [Governor Perry] would be at any given time." Thus, the governor asserts that the requested information reveals detailed time lines of Governor Perry's future daily activities, and that release of this information would be valuable for someone who intended to cause him harm. Based on these representations and our review, we determine that the release of the information at issue would place the Governor in imminent threat of physical danger. Accordingly, the governor must withhold the information at issue under section 552.101 of the Government Code in conjunction with the "special circumstances" aspect of common-law privacy.
This, of course, is Pure-D foolishness. How can danger be "imminent" if, upon receiving the information, a potential perpetrator could not pose a danger to the Governor without first "doing research to determine the location and time of each item on the schedule"? And anyway, the recent attack at the Governor's mansion occurred at a time when Perry has been living elsewhere for many months (assuming a perpetrator would have to do "research") - there's simply no reason to believe beyond a "generalized and speculative fear" that anyone's out to harm him.

Without this strained definition of "imminent," the Governor's schedule of events in which he's participating as a paid elected official is clearly public information.

This was a terrible, embarrassing ruling. It should be revisited and reversed.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Governor Perry is loosing his belief in his personal mortality. He's a little old to be going thru this, even for a man.

He would have no trouble publishing every last detail of his schedule during a campaign for office. While in the midst of a political campaign he would have hopes of attracting the press and the public to is speeches.

Now that he knows he is not truly and deeply loved by every Texas, he's hiding behing the Attorney General. Pity!

Anonymous said...

Isn't this the same IDIOT that wanted to know the identities of ANONYMOUS posters to this BLOG? Why can't we know where our TAX money paid Governor is? Could it be because the poor shape of the DPS and they may not be able to protect him? Or is he losing his mind?

Anonymous said...

This is disgusting.

Our AG is no different than Gonzales AG for Bush.

Makes a bad joke of the rule of law, and the rule of law is not off topic in a criminal justice blog.

Ron in Houston said...

Obviously he and W are cut from the same cloth. I am assuming that you can get the records of his past schedules, right?

Doran Williams said...

I don't know, Grits. Attending an Aggie Muster seems like a good place for a radical liberal like Perry to get mugged.

And No, you can't get his past schedules because of the imminent possibility of time-traveling radical terrorists.

Ron in Houston said...

Holy crap!!!

Terrorists have discovered time travel? We're screwed.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Time travel is just the first step, Ron - next they tap into networks of red light cameras and turn the tools of the surveillance society against us. It's all been foreseen. And naturally, secrecy is paramount. ;)

Anonymous said...

Maybe The Hair needs to join Dick Cheney at his secure, undisclosed location.

Don Dickson said...

More creativity involving the Public Information Act: The DPS has refused to comply with literally hundreds of PIA requests for info pertinent to the Mansion fire on the ground that the info requested is pertinent to pending administrative and criminal investigations - hell, they won't even release an image of the arsonist. But without giving the matter a second thought, they released a list of the web pages viewed by the Trooper working at the Mansion on the night of the fire! (Which, believe me, has been no less the subject of investigation, though it does not appear that the Trooper violated any policy or was inattentive to his duties.) It was a shameful day in the history of the DPS.

Anonymous said...

Well, all jokes aside we must look at the truth of the matter. The Governor does not wish the people to know that he actually does nothing but float here and there and pay outrageous prices for haircuts and really doesn't attend to matters at hand. Like that joke Nedelkoff requesting to be out of conservatorship...and yet nothing is being done. But that is ok, TYC issues are not done, the economy is no better and the governors schedule is secret and Bush pulled the crap to cover the guy who didnt want to testify. So, what do you do...wait for the governor to leave office. Good riddens...he was not effective. To bad the people didn't catch it sooner.

Anonymous said...

To indulge in a little Austin gossip-- He doesn't want the Right Wing Christian Conservatives who elected him to know where he hides out and who he hides out with. And what types of orientations he's with.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You know, Don, I was surprised at the ferocity of the response toward DPS. It's not that y'all don't have flaws, but can the agency's biggest flaw really be failing to stop a single, covert assailant from throwing a molotov cocktail? Even if every camera worked, e.g., they still wouldn't have stopped the person, just potentially filmed him (assuming they weren't smart enough to wear a hat or conceal their face). Bottom line, for me it falls into the "Unfortunate, but s%*t happens" category.

If I were on Sunset, I could name half a dozen topics I'd call Col. Davis onto the carpet over before even thinking about the fire!

One thing's clear to me: Davis was a first-class aggregator, and much of the agency risks dismantling next session once he's gone. Whether that's a good or bad thing? ... perhaps a little of both.

Don Dickson said...

Grits, perhaps you saw Jake Bernstein's comment on the Observer blog. He hit the bullseye - Allan Polunsky is trying to pull off the overhaul of DPS before Sunset and the Lege can provide any meaningful oversight.

I also commend to you Lisa Falkenberg's commentary in today's (7/17) Houston Chronicle Also a bullseye.

Anonymous said...

He left the govenor's mansion so the public couldn't get the visitor's log... so they wouldn't get a Jack Abramoff trail. He liked it so much they decided to burn the mansion down. This is just another step in the same direction