When I have asked for public information records from various entities, at times the governmental entity has wanted to withhold information. Without exception in the past, the entity has written to the Texas Attorney General within the 10 business days timeline, to ask the AG for an opinion on whether they can withhold or redact information. In other words, the onus is on the entity with the information to justify why the public requestor cannot have what he or she is asking for. In no case have I ever been asked first if I would give consent to the governmental entity to redact information INSTEAD OF them asking the AG.
What is absolutely absurd about this is I cannot possibly know, first, what the Somervell County Hospital District would want to redact, if it's appropriate, or whimsical. It really is up to them, as it is their burden to prove, to decide if they want to keep information private and ask the AG if they can. Second, I am not aware of any part of the Texas Public Information Act or law that says that a governmental entity should first ask the person to give consent, yes or no. There IS a part about the entity's steps it should take to ask the AG. I could be wrong on this so I have asked the attorney, above, to please cite the part of the law that allows for asking the person to give consent to redact information instead of asking the AG. (Any readers who look a tthe link above, please point out the page of this procedure). I have also asked the Attorney General whether such a directive is both appropriate and legal.
UPDATE. I asked Mr Krienke this.
It is not appropriate, I believe, to ask me if I give consent about redacting information, it is up to you all if you wish not to give me what I am asking for to bring it to the Attorney General. You may consider this answer as no, I do not give consent for Somervell County Hospital District to redact records..
Please point me to the section of the Public Information Act that discusses the requestee asking permission of the requestor to redact information versus the responsibility of the requestee to seek an AG opinion.
His response, which starts out, you will note with some arrogance, apparently from the assumption that I do not understand that the hospital district might not have to share some information. No, the issue is that WHEN it is the hospital district's position that the information might not have to be public, they TAKE it to the AG letting the AG know WHY they don't want to supply it. You will notice also that Krienke did not send back where I asked him where trying to pre-empt that step is spelled out in the Public Information Act and he said, instead, basically that that's something him and his buddies do informally. Don't know how common that is for him and his cronies, but here in Somervell County, in the 5 years of doing open records request (and there have been occasions when th entity went to the AG first) NO ONE has ever tried to ask me if the entity could have leeway to redact the inormation first. That includes GRMC, which has on at least one other occasion, gone to the AG previously to try to prevent salary information, which is public, from being shared.
The hospital district is prohibited by law from sharing certain information with the public. In an effort to save time and taxpayer money, it is very common political subdivisions to ask requestors to permit the political subdivision to redact certain mandatory and permissive confidential information without the necessity of a request to the Office of the Attorney General.
I will submit a request to the Office of the Attorney General.
UPDATE: Spoke to the Attorney General's office on Friday. The attorney spokeswoman agreed with me that the request from the attorney was too general and not specific enough. For example, if he wished to ask for redaction of social security numbers or driver's licenses, he should have specified that. I actually would probably have agreed had that been narrowed down to that extent. But saying "all mandatory and permissive information" essentially is a blank check. The AG's attorney said she would be calling the attorney to let him know how to do it in the future. Meanwhile, as apparently the attorney had not received the call yet, Mr Krienke wrote me this via email on Friday afternoon (which was also ccd' to Ray Reynolds and Sharla Collins)
I don't believe I am wrong. In fact, it is my understanding that the Office of the Attorney General actually encourages requestors and governmental entities to informally agree on the redaction of mandatory and permissive information without the necessity of a request to the Attorney General. This informal procedure can save valuable time and taxpayer money.
I'm happy to speak with the Attorney General regarding your concerns.
Reed, Claymon, Meeker & Hargett, PLLC
So looks like his happiness will occur this week when the AG's office calls him. I do agree that it's appropriate to try to narrow down the scope and agree upon items when the request itself is general. It's ironic, however, to ask the requestor to be more specific, while faililng to be yourself.
UPDATE 12/5/2013- Although this is from a public information request done with the Texas Rangers, it's an excellent example which I fully agree with about private information that does not have to be supplied. Note that the Texas Rangers told me that they were going to already redact some specific information and if I then chose to appeal, I could do so (and they included informaton about appealing). I like this very professional and specific way of talking about redaction.
As a side note, the AG attorney did say that some governmental entities choose to have the lawyers directly contact the requestor, but that it varies. I told her that in the 5 years I have been doing info requests, I have never once been directly contacted by the attorney of the governmental entity, that while I have received letters showing that my request had been taken to the AG, all conversations were through the person designated as the Public Information Officer, unless specifically referred on by him or her to another person. I believe it shows respect to the person who has been through the training and is the public face for requests to have that one be the contact point, and every single entity in Somervell County has done it like that, including Glen Rose Medical Center... until now. Thus, Mr. Krienke's experience has been different than mine. Perhaps I should ask Ray Reynolds if requests should be going directly to Krienke rather than Sharla Collins.
Here's what the Texas Public Information Handbook says about this:
Who Must Obtain the Training: The requirement appllies to all governmental bodies subject to the Act. It requires the top elected and appointed officials from governmental bodies subject to these laws to complete a training course on the Act. Alternatively, public officials may designate a public information coordinator to attend training in their place so long as the designee is the person primarily responsible for the processing of open records requests for the governmental body. ...
A governmental body must make a good faith effort to relate a request to information that it holds. A governmental body may ask a requestor to clarify a request for information if the request is unclear. the governmental body may discuss with the requestor how the scope of the request might be narrowed,
In fact, you can see from the AG's website that the default is to have the governmental entity do the interaction (I hardly think the attorneys hired by the Somervell County Hospital District are governmental in nature).
Essentially, then, rather than Sharla Collins, GRMC seems to be using Mr Krienke was their public information officer, acting FOR the governmental body.
P.S. Have thought quite a bit more about this. I believe that having the attorney being the one that is the communication point for the public, rather than working through the designated, trained, public information officer disrespects Sharla Collins. What, they don't trust her to be able to, at a very simple level, relay information back to me FROM the attorney? After all, she works directly for Ray Reynolds, the CEO; did he hire someone he doesn't believe can competently be the focal point for these? (Every single other governmental entity has the basic capability to ask questions and narrow down requests-apparently GRMC cannot do this without an attorney being directly involved). Really feeds into the whole distrust that so many people have about the operation of Glen Rose Medical Center.