I can only wonder in amazement at the foolishness behind the Smith County Commissioners Court's decision to sue the Attorney General over whether they can conceal detailed plans of the jail they're asking voters to finance. It's almost as though they've thought better of the jail plan and are insisting on extra secrecy to sabotage the deal.
Otherwise, if you want me to pay for something but won't tell me the details about what you're doing, I'd vote "no" on principle, no matter what the topic. That's how I predict Smith County voters will respond to this decision, which ensures the details won't come out until after voters have made their choice.
It's pretty ballsy that folks who planned the jail in secret, then sprung the election on voters with little public debate, now want their constituents to vote without getting to see plans that would be public in any other jurisdiction in Texas. (After all, the AG interprets the open records act for the whole state.) Voters can only wonder, as the What Part of No Don't You Understand Blog asked, "What do these people have to hide? Has the cover up begun?"
Sheriff J.B. Smith wants to pretend this A.G. decision was somehow unique, but voters seek information about jail plans in virtually every contested jail election. Since every other jail in the state must abide by the same requirements, why hasn't it harmed their security? The law on this has been the same for nearly 40 years.
For that matter, the county will have to show the detailed plans to Wall Street bond houses in order to get financing approved and the world is seeing that there are plenty of crooks in that crowd! Why do they trust Wall Street more than voters?
In the biggest picture this is a theoretical debate, though certainly J.B. Smith doesn't understand that. The two competing theories are "security through obscurity," where security comes from keeping secrets, and a more modern concept of open-sourced security, which was developed in the computer realm but has been brought to public security debates by people like Bruce Schneier.
The latter view holds that the more people who look at plans and scrutinize them for security flaws, the more likely you are to anticipate mistakes. Even if authorities keep plans secret, they're only secret until one person lets them out - either through incompetence or corruption, it doesn't matter. According to the "security through obscurity" view, that would be an irreparable tragedy. If security problems are open sourced, though, instead of hidden, security solutions must be strong enough to overcome any weaknesses caused by the flaws. That outcome is better for everybody in the long run and is the best safety argument for making the information public.
The best political argument for complying with the law probably comes straight from preamble to the Public Information Act:
Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.The Smith County Commissioners Court and Sheriff Smith think it's up to them "to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know." I'm guessing that, on election day, voters will inform them that they don't appreciate such an arrogant attitude by their elected officials.