Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sunshine Week: Adventures in Public Information Openness

This week is "Sunshine Week", a nationwide initiative to draw attention to openness in government. Alas, it has been mighty cloudy this week, and I'm NOT talking about all the rain we've been having either.

First we had that Mental Giant in Roanoak Va. I blogged about that abused the Open Records requests by publishing information that in any logical world should be shielded from public disclosure. In an ideal world, such information would not even be collected by the government. This idiot did not break a law in doing what he did, but there is a difference between right and wrong and what the law allows. He clearly does not understand the difference.

Closer to home, Fred Blanton is trying to force the NHMCCD Foundation to disclose just how much of it's funding and support derives from taxpayer monies. But of course, the Foundation has hired Bracewell & Giuliani (yes, THAT Giuliani!) to represent them. They have sent this missive off to the AG trying to prevent anyone from looking too close at their finances.

It would appear that the NHMCCD board uses the foundation monies as a virtual slush fund to pay for things that it would be illegal for the board to spend money on itself. But since most of the employees, overhead, and money is suspected to come from NHMCCD and other public funds, it only adds a level of obfuscation to the already murky level of illegality. If and when the information becomes available, I'll pass it on. Fred's suspicions come from the following issues:
The foundation receives money from NHMCCD
The foundation receives money from Aldine ISD
The foundation receives facilities and office space from NHMCCD
The foundation payroll is paid by NHMCCD
Utilities, Internet, phone, HVAC, janitorial services to the foundation are supplied by NHMCCD
The foundation receives funding from other entities, such as the East Montgomery County Improvement District
The foundation's accounting services paid are for by NHMCCD
Additionally it is suspected that NHMCCD supplies in-house legal counsel for the foundation, and that the foundation may have received state and federal grants as well. Therefore:

Section 552.003 1 (A)(xii) describes the following that are subject to TXPIA requests:

(xii) the part, section, or portion of an organization, corporation, commission, committee, institution, or agency that spends or that is supported in whole or in part by public funds;

It certainly sounds like the foundation fits the definition as being subject to TXPIA requests to me.....

In the matter of the Andy Taylor's billing records however, there may well be a chink in the armor. When Fred sent a follow up TXPIA request stating that he thought that the redactions were illegal, they requested an opinion from the Attorney General as to whether they could redact the information. Mind you, they didn't do this BEFORE they redacted the information which in of itself is a violation, but the NHMCCD made another fatal mistake, they were required to either answer Fred or seek an AG opinion and notify Fred of them doing so by March 12th, it would appear that they may have fiddle-farted around, waited until the last minute (as usual) and missed that deadline and filed it late. Therefore, NHMCCD may have forfeited the right to contest such disclosure. The jury is still out on that one since they MAY have made the filing to the AG's office in time, but if you note the postmark on the envelope, you'll note it was not postmarked to Fred until the 13th. How that will sort out legally is unclear. If I learn more, I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, METRO's ever present thorn in their side, Tom Bazan, is trying desperately to obtain METRO's National Transit Database report for Fiscal Year 2006, as well as the Fiscal Year 2006 financial statements which are required to prepare the NTD report. These documents are historically available by the end of January of each year. METRO claims they did not have the information to produce it, however Tom knew different. He knew that the NTD report had already been made to the Feds, which meant that both reports were in existence. He called them on the carpet on it and sicced the Harris County DA's office on them. Suddenly a letter appears from METRO's legal beagles that yes the data existed in a proprietary database but that the actual written NTD report was still buried somewhere in the bowels of KPMG until just a couple days ago and that Lo and Behold! Saint's Be Praised! The NTD document is suddenly available for review.... only 3 months late. But still no joy on the FY2006 Financial report, which MUST have been complete in order to generate the NTD report.... it is still apparently stuck somewhere in the vicinity of KPMG's ascending colon, or so METRO says.... Apparently the Harris County DA's office is only partially effective as a bureaucratic laxative.

(I'd post links to the PDF files Tom emailed me, but blogger does not allow me to upload PDF's that I am aware of and Tom doesn't host them anywhere that I am aware of. I'd be happy to forward them to anyone who asks however.)

UPDATE: Seems that the district is claiming that they are prevented from disclosing the details of Andy Taylor's billing records because they pertain to ongoing litigation that the district and Fred Blanton are party to. But there is one problem with that, the district is not party to the litigation. The litigation is comprised of ethics complaints against the acts of individuals, empowed by the Board members, not the district itself. Why is it then that the district is paying the legal bills of the individuals? Even if that WERE the case, how does that apply to the "Public Relations" work? Last time I checked, someone doing public relations work is not entitled to invoke attorney client privilege since the person is not acting as an attorney. You'll note that the above linked letter was dated on March 13, this is also past the deadline and they admit that they forgot to send it with the original package IN THE LETTER.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

TSU look out... that little hick Jr. College up north is stealing your thunderbolt!

Just can't help but thinking about turning on the light in the old dirty smelly kitchen at night and watching the roaches scramble....

I can't wait for retirement...sooner than later.

March 14, 2007 9:37 PM  
Anonymous rideuponthewind said...

Who, who, who is paying for this "prestigeous" (by their account) law firm?!?!?!

I bet I know!

When these NHMCCD people and their puppet Foundation crash and burn I assure you I'll be the first in line to roast a hotdog over their open flames!

Gag, gag, gag, gag, GAG!

March 15, 2007 11:58 AM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

Seems Mr. Giuliani has some 'splainin to do in conection to his firm representing CITGO in lobbying efforts in Austin as well..... you know, because Hugo Chavez is such a friend to the United States and all.....

March 15, 2007 12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Today is the Ides of March, ya know? Is there foreboding in the air for all involved???????

Could beeeeeeeeeeeeeee......

March 15, 2007 1:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like a "conundrum" here. Maybe a "Catch 22" again... If I am reading this correct Rorschach, the District is paying for the litigation of events of which it is not a party to, but the individuals are. If the litigation is ongoing, then the board must approve and authorize it, and thereby becoming a party to it, of which means that they then too would be sunject to the same charges since they are agreeing with the actions of the individuals....

Boy that was a long one!... am I reading this correctly?

March 16, 2007 3:00 PM  
Blogger Rorschach said...

There are a couple issues with this situation:

First off, paying for a lawyer that will be representing a third party establishes no attorney client privilege between you and the attorney.

Say for instance, if you were say caught shoplifting from Walmart, and I paid for an attorney to represent you, there would be no privilege between me and the attorney, only between YOU and the attorney. I would be free to show the bills to anyone I liked. in this case, since the bills are being paid by a public entity, they should be subject to TXPIA requests.

Secondly, most of the parties named in the complaint are board members (some are employees of the district that were acting on behalf of the board members). Is it legal for the board to decide that the district is going to pick up the legal bills for the individual board members or employees?

That is a grey area at best. That would be like the TSU board paying to represent Priscilla Slade for defrauding TSU (and thereby the taxpayer). The NHMCCD board is a subdivision of the state. The state is the entity prosecuting the complaint. Therefore it is a bit of a conflict of interest. But it is no worse than the state providing a public defender for an accused criminal.

March 16, 2007 5:04 PM  
Anonymous rideuponthewind said...

The unethical conduct that abounds around these people is just mind boggling. Perhaps we should just abolish the State Education Board as it's so apparent they cannot control the entites over which they "have control." It's just sickening that we taxpayers have to take time away from OUR LIVES to make sure that OUR TAX DOLLARS are not being abused and misused.

These people need to be prosecuted, and I, for one, will follow them to the mouth of hell to make sure they get a taste of the K R A P P that they so willing dish out to others.

They're liars, and crooks, and thieves.

March 17, 2007 8:40 AM  
Blogger southerntragedy said...

Inkblots: I think a letter to the editor in The Villager is in order. If you help make a draft letter, I will sign my name to it. Do you still have my e-mail? NHMCCD needs exposure of this. You and Fred keep up the good work!

March 19, 2007 5:56 PM  

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