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.