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July 20th, 2018:

Debating dates

We know what the best answer is. What the most likely answer is, I have no idea.

Lupe Valdez

The back-and-forth over when and where the two major candidates for Texas governor will debate continued Wednesday, with Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez announcing that she had accepted an invitation to a debate featuring a different host, location and time than the one that incumbent Republican Greg Abbott agreed to a week earlier.

The invitation Valdez accepted was for a debate on the evening of Monday, Oct. 8, at the University of Houston-Downtown. It would be organized by the local ABC and Univision affiliates. A week earlier, Abbott announced he had agreed to a debate hosted by Nexstar Media Group on the evening of Friday, Sept. 28, at a yet-to-be-determined location in Austin.

After Abbott’s announcement, Valdez said she was “in” for a debate but took issue with the timing of Sept. 28 event — a Friday evening in the middle of high school football season. Her campaign said Wednesday that any debate between the two should be at a different time and be broadcast live on television and online, feature a live in-studio audience and include a Spanish-language media partner with a portion of questions in Spanish.

“I’m running to represent all of Texas, and if there is going to be a debate, town hall or other type of forum, we need to ensure a real discussion for all of Texas to hear,” Valdez said in a news release that called on Abbott to “stop hiding from Texans.”

See here for the background. The right answer, of course, is for both of these debates to happen. You know, for Democracy! and all that. Realistically, Greg Abbott can say “hey, I’ve already agreed to a debate, and wasn’t Lupe Valdez less than eager to engage in debates against Andrew White”, and when he does, what’s the response to that? By all means, push for more, but the leverage is not at all with Valdez.

Another homeless feeding lawsuit dismissed

Not the end of the story, though.

A state district judge this week dismissed a lawsuit a local activist filed last year against Houston’s ordinance regulating the charitable feeding of the city’s homeless, but the case is proceeding on with a new plaintiff.

Phillip Paul Bryant’s original lawsuit had said the 2012 law infringed on his ability to live his Christian faith by limiting how he could care for the poor, but city attorneys argued Bryant lacked the legal standing to challenge the law, as he had not been cited under it.

The ordinance requires advocates to obtain permission from property owners – public or private – before giving away food to more than five people in one setting.

A new plaintiff, Shere Dore, was added to the case last week, and the updated court filings describe a Christmas Eve 2016 incident in which the city allegedly confiscated food Dore was trying to give to the homeless.

I did not blog about this at the time the lawsuit was filed, but here’s a Chron story about it. You may think that finding a plaintiff who had actually been harmed by the law would be a pretty basic thing, but if you read all the way through either of these stories and note who the plaintiff’s attorney was, you can understand why this piece of jurisprudence may have gotten overlooked. I might also argue that if the first relevant violation of the law didn’t occur until over four years after it had been passed, then maybe it’s not really that onerous. But we’ll see about that when the suit gets re-filed.

Darian Ward indicted on charge of violating public information laws

Wow.

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s former press secretary, Darian Ward, was indicted by a grand jury this week for failing to turn over public records in response to a reporter’s request late last year.

The indictment, handed up Tuesday but released by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office Thursday, says Ward, in “misrepresenting” the number of emails responsive to a reporter’s request for correspondence about her personal business activities, “unlawfully, with criminal negligence … failed and refused to give access to … public information.”

Ward resigned in January, weeks after news broke that she had been suspended for withholding the records, and because the records showed she had routinely conducted personal business on city time.

[…]

“Mayor Turner expects every city of Houston employee to comply with the Texas Public Information Act,” mayoral spokeswoman Mary Benton said, noting the mayor was on a trade mission to South America. “Questions about today’s grand jury decision should be directed to the Harris County District Attorney’s office.”

She is charged with failure or refusal by an officer for public information to provide access to public information, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000, six months in jail or both.

The indictment first was reported by KPRC Channel 2.

[…]

Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said it is common for officials to stall the release of records or impose unreasonable charges for the documents’ release without technically violating the law, and many more — typically unprovable — cases in which requesters suspect the act is being violated.

“It is very important that officials are taking the Texas Public Information Act seriously,” Shannon said. “Whatever comes out of this indictment, it shows that attention is being focused on the Public Information Act and the importance of adhering to the act.”

See here and here for some background on Darian Ward’s end of tenure with the city. I’m irresponsibly speculating well in advance of any evidence, but I would not be surprised if this winds up with a plea deal and a minimal fine. Whether that sets an example for adhering to the Public Information Act or not is up for debate, but I will agree that this law is routinely ignored and should be enforced more often. Those of you with long memories may recall the Rick Perry email saga, which included a complaint filed with the Travis County DA that did not result in any charges. We live in different times now, I guess.