Q: What should I be charged for public information from our local police department? I believe they are trying to overcharge so I will drop my requests.
A: Ideally, you should be charged nothing at all because your requests are for the police department’s readily available public information that you publish in your newspaper for the good of the community.
Whether or not your local police department understands that, Texas law certainly understands.
See the Texas Public Information Act, Government Code § 552.267, “Waiver or Reduction of Charge for Providing Copy of Public Information,” which reads as follows:
(a) A governmental body shall provide a copy of public information without charge or at a reduced charge if the governmental body determines that waiver or reduction of the charge is in the public interest because providing the copy of the information primarily benefits the general public.
(b) If the cost to a governmental body of processing the collection of a charge for providing a copy of public information will exceed the amount of the charge, the governmental body may waive the charge.
Also see the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas’s letter template for Texas Public Information Act requests at https://foift.org/resources/letter-templates/pia-letter/.
There is a paragraph in the letter worded as follows:
“Disclosure of this information is in the public interest because providing a copy of the information primarily benefits the general public. I therefore request a waiver of all fees and charges pursuant to Section 552.267 of the act.”
Finally, please visit the Office of the Attorney General’s Open Government Copy Cost Hotline, which gives you a number to call about the problem you are having.
Both requesters and governmental bodies can call the Open Government Cost Hotline to ask questions about charges under the cost rules for the Public Information Act. The hotline can be used for questions relating to charges for copies of public information, methods of charging, complaints from requestors regarding overcharges, and governmental body requests for exemptions from the cost rules. Call the hotline at (512) 475-2497; or toll free, (888) 672-6787.
Q: I’ve been unable to get a big, out-of-state company to pay for the inserts they shipped here with an order for us to include them in recent editions, but without prepayment. We fulfilled our end of the deal. I sent them invoices by regular mail and by email and I left phone messages. No response! I trusted that they would follow through and pay in a timely fashion. What would you recommend?
A: If the company does not take care of this past-due account, you might want to get a collection agency involved.
First, please visit https://www.texaspress.com/content/member-services-guide and under “Other Services” find:
Profit Recovery Service — reduced-fee profit recovery service through Transworld’s Green Flag recovery service; call 512-244-9400 for information.
Second, you might query the TPA Publishers Listserver to find out if your colleagues are having similar experiences.
Q: We had delays getting election results on Super Tuesday, March 3. While we were awaiting the results from the county elections department, two people — one of whom was one of the local candidates — sent me a link to unofficial results.
I checked the link and there were projected winners named, all of whom turned out to be accurate for our county, but this information doesn’t seem like it should be available for public access because it contains personal info on candidates.
I made a post on my newspaper’s social media page asking followers not post the link on our page and advised that we would delete the post from our page should anyone post it there.
Can you tell me the origin of this information?
A: What you have is a report generated by the Elections Division of the Texas Secretary of State.
It is readily available public information, and it’s OK to publish public information. Here is where that page came from: https://results.texas-election.com/reports
If you open the link and click the “Generate Report” button at the bottom of the page, you will get the same PDF that one of your local candidates provided to you.
Q: So, to be clear, when information like this is public, as a publication we are equally justified in sharing — or refusing to share — that information?
A: When newspapers publish election results, they don’t normally include the candidates’ address information.
But it’s your choice. You can choose to publish — or not to publish — information that has been made public by a governmental body, which in this case is the Secretary of State’s Elections Division.
Q: Would you please remind me of good names to put as carbon-copy addressees at the bottom of my public information request letters?
A: It can help you to cc:
• Justin Gordon, Division Chief, Open Records Division, Office of the Attorney General,
P.O. Box 12548,
Austin, Texas 78711-2548,
• Kelley Shannon, Executive Director,
Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas,
3001 N. Lamar Blvd., Suite 302,
Austin, Texas 78705,