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The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A New Audit in East Texas...

From Tyler, Texas comes word of a new audit....

Open government training could be a factor in improved compliance rates recorded last year in East Texas, but the educational mandate may not be broad enough to ensure key public employees follow the law, according to a university study.

Journalism students at The University of Texas at Tyler found that two-thirds of the 118 entities they surveyed employ someone with the required training in open records law, although that person may not always be the one who has initial contact with the public.

Under Texas law, all elected or appointed public officials or their designee must complete training approved by the state's attorney general's office.

Hundreds of East Texas school trustees, city managers and council members, county clerks and public information officers received that training last year, but compliance information is not necessarily trickling down to front line employees and therefore possibly preventing violations, according to survey results.

In most cases, a clerk or secretary - employees not covered by the law - likely received an open records request first. Although the request often was passed on to a superior without incident, the survey found room for improvement.

In Canton, for example, a researcher noted a required open records information notice posted just left of the main entrance inside the police department building, yet an officer questioned the student said he would be charged $25 per report, and told him the requested information was "not usually given out to non-media" - all violations of the Texas Public Information Act.

The student researcher said Chief Operations Officer Michael Echols also told him he had "never heard" of open government training. The researcher was referred to City Hall, located about four blocks away, and later received the requested police documents through city hall personnel.

Echols did not return a telephone message requesting a follow-up interview. But City Secretary Julie Seymore said she is the city's trained public information officer and the city's policy is to refer all open records requests to her.

She said Echols told her no one in his department is trained about open records laws.

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