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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.

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3 Comments

  1. Manny Barrera says:

    All I can say is that HCCS sued the state rather than provide information I had requested. I have had much better success with HISD then HCC or the City. The City quit being transparent under Parker.

    13 fired the person that requested the information because like almost all media they have clients that control what information they will investigate. 13 like others, Chronicle, are there to make money first, everything else is a distant second.

    http://www.houstonpress.com/news/houston-community-college-sues-texas-attorney-general-over-public-records-7396122

    It is getting too hard and too expensive to request information.

  2. Manny Barrera says:

    Harris County is a weird animal, finding who to request from and getting a response is a hit and miss proposition. County Attorney does a good job responding. Commissioners Court not so much.

  3. j.davis says:

    Sorry to sound like a pendant, but notwithstanding Mayor Turner’s and Kelly Shannon’s statements, there ain’t no such thing as the “Texas Public Information Act” or the ‘Public Information Act”–at least not in the statutes of Texas.

    Chapter 550 of the Government Code, “Public Information,” does not assign include a short title to that chapter. It can be referenced as the “public information law,” but only the Texas legislature can give a law a short title, which it didn’t do and hasn’t done to Chapter 550, GC.