An excellent example can be found in an op ed this morning in the Houston Chronicle from Texas Appleseed's legal director complaining that Abbott's office ruled against forcing school districts to disclose use of force policies for police officers they employ. Writes Deborah Fowler:
many parents may be surprised to learn that campus police officers in some Texas school districts are using tasers, pepper spray and other forms of restraint to handle these types of incidents. At Manor High School north of Austin, 12 students were treated for exposure to pepper spray last week after police used the spray to break up fights. Last April, six students at a Dallas high school were hospitalized and the school evacuated when pepper spray, used to break up a fight between two students, got into the school's ventilation system.
Two months earlier, some Edinburg school board members expressed surprise that a school district police officer was allowed to keep his job after video showed him dragging a sixth grade student by handcuffs.
Can it happen in your child's school? Answering that question just got harder with the recent release of brief opinion letters by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott supporting efforts by Spring Branch ISD and San Antonio ISD to keep their policing policy off limits to the public — no explanation given.
There's just no excuse for keeping these records from the public. The law enforcement exception to the Public Information Act simply doesn't allow police departments to keep use of force policies secret, whether or not the officers work for a school. Information about individual incidents may be another matter, depending on the circumstances, but the policies are public records, and should be.
Appleseed should sue to obtain these documents - this is a terrible precedent to set.
Similarly, Abbott is helping Governor Perry keep secret memoranda related to the Todd Willingham execution, even though he approved release of the same documents related to Gov. George W. Bush in 2003. The Houston Chronicle is suing to gain access to those documents.
One of the downsides of the decline of daily newspapers over the last 20 years is that fewer entities out there have resources to sue over open records when the Attorney General makes politicized rulings like these that don't comply with the act. Most individuals don't have the means to take on the government in an extended legal fight. That means nonprofits like Texas Appleseed need to pick up the slack or there won't be any institutional players out there protecting the public's right to know.
This isn't a partisan issue: When the last Democratic AG was in power, Dan Morales, he was much worse than Abbott on open government. In general, those in power would prefer that us plebians can't know what they're doing and why - it's always been thus no matter which party is in charge. That's why, IMO, stewardship of the Public Information Act is arguably the single most important duty of the Texas Attorney General. Abbott risks tarnishing his legacy on transparency with these recent decisions, not to mention setting bad precedents that could end up sticking when requestors don't have resources to sue for the records.