Breaking Public Records


Some amusing accounts of what-appear-to-be normal citizens trying to get access to public records from government officials, courtesy of the Brownsville (Tex.) Herald.

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  1. Sure sounds like those bureacrats have something to hide.
    Hey, wasn’t our Prez the Guv down there? How can this be? His Houston schools are exemplary.

  2. Well, that’s nice and infuriating.

  3. These are often statewide freedom-of-information projects, where the Associated Press coordinates visits to city and county offices and agencies to ask for records that are definitely open under state law, like school superintendents’ salaries. I believe it was done first in Indiana, but Colorado did it in 2000, with the results published simultaneously around the state (Nov. 16, 2000).

    About a third of the time the information was provided only after a delay, and one in eight requests was rejected outright.

    A lot of the stories are like the ones in Texas. The simple fact is that many employees don’t know the law and so they make it up.

  4. “The simple fact is that many employees don’t know the law and so they make it up.”

    And where do we think laws come from in the first place?

  5. One of the info-seekers’ anecdote reported that he refused to give the city secretary her phone number, and said “that’s not in the law” Don’t be so paranoid. Maybe they just wanted your number so they can call you when the copies are ready, or to ask you questions about what exactly it is you want, do you want this other stuff, do you want this stuff going back to X date, etc. Don’t storm in there with a chip on your shoulder. You have a right under the open records laws to see the info, but you will need the help of lower-level staffers to identify exactly what information you want and to help you get access to it. Don’t piss off those people. You can attract more flies with honey than vinegar and all that.

    That said, dealing with local gov’t flunkies is frustrating. Bureaucracy is maddening that’s why everyone is pissed off at the DMV, even the 300 pound wenches behind the counter.

  6. Is it really the spirit and purpose of these “freedom of information” laws to allow every Tom, Dick and Harry to walk into every public office and ask for each document as may please them?

    Well, that’s “waste legislation” in the truest sense of the word.

  7. In California I’ve seen a judge deny a criminal defendant’s discovery request on the grounds that the information sought is privileged even though it is statutorily designated as public information.

    How’s THAT for due process?

  8. A real mixed bag here. Some of these look like “The simple fact is that many employees don’t know the law and so they make it up.” Others look like general crankiness towards annoying citizens. But at least a couple of these stories feature behavior that should throw up red flags for the DA.

  9. Is Paul Krugman out there anywhere? You still doubt the Public Choice tenet that bureaucrats act as self interested entities?

    I can’t stand petty dictators in “public service” that forget who is working for whom. ARRGH!

  10. These stories are, sadly, in no way amusing.

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