Forces them to sign non-disclosure in order to see public information
San Antonio, TX, May 10, 2006 – Concerned citizen and founder of SA Toll Party.com, Terri Hall, was shocked when she received a letter (view it here) in response to a public information request from the Department of Transportation (TxDOT) requiring her to sign a “license” agreement forbidding her from discussing or disclosing PUBLIC information to the PUBLIC!
“It’s an outrage! TxDOT has clearly violated our Open Records laws and continues to violate open and transparent government. The PEOPLE are the owners of government and we pay their paychecks. TxDOT has lost all objectivity when it comes to toll roads. They’re essentially trying to issue a gag order keeping us from taking this information public. They want to operate in secrecy like the private, foreign companies they’re brokering deals with in secret,” declares Hall.
Hall asked for feasibility studies on all the toll projects in Bexar and surrounding counties. After several months of haggling and having to involve an attorney, she obtained some initial studies last fall. However, TxDOT has ratcheted up the stonewalling a notch by requiring citizens to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Essentially, TxDOT is blocking access to and blocking public dissemination of PUBLIC information that prevents grassroots citizens from seeing, discussing, or sharing vital information about toll rates and the financial details behind toll plans.
Since the contract negotiations are done in secret (see proof here), and given the fact that TxDOT and Cintra are suing to keep even the signed contracts secret from the public (see proof here), one of the few ways citizens have of trying to discover toll rates and the cost of these projects is through feasibility studies. Now TxDOT is trying to keep these feasibility studies secret from the public, too. They’re also trying to charge Hall $109 simply to VIEW the documents.
“This ought to be a wake-up call,” shares a concerned Hall, “that TxDOT is out of control and has overstepped its authority. We’re talking about highways, not top secret classified information. This unlawful abuse of power needs to stop, NOW. These studies PROVE that the toll rates TxDOT is telling the public aren’t true. Frankly, it’s moves like this that make it a lot easier to prove TxDOT’s corruption. What are they trying to hide? We’re the owners of government, and we’re simply trying to get to the truth.”
TxDOT Violates the Freedom of Information Act which states:
Link to Freedom of Information Act here.
(iii) Documents shall be furnished without any charge or at a charge reduced below the fees established under clause (ii) if disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
Another Violation of the Freedom Of Information Act :
(v) No agency may require advance payment of any fee unless the requester has previously failed to pay fees in a timely fashion, or the agency has determined that the fee will exceed $250.
Texas State Public Information Act:
Link to state statute here.
• TxDOT did not require me to sign such a document a few months ago when I requested feasibility studies, nor to my knowledge, have they asked others, including reporters, to do the same.
Sec.A552.223. UNIFORM TREATMENT OF REQUESTS FOR
INFORMATION.AAThe officer for public information or the officer’s
agent shall treat all requests for information uniformly without
regard to the position or occupation of the requestor, the person on
whose behalf the request is made, or the status of the individual as
a member of the media.
Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993.
Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 1035, Sec. 15, eff. Sept. 1,
• TxDOT should waive the cost when it’s for the general public. Our grassroots group qualifies under this exception of charges.
Sec.A552.267. WAIVER OR REDUCTION OF CHARGE FOR PROVIDING
COPY OF PUBLIC INFORMATION.AA(a) A governmental body shall provide
a copy of public information without charge or at a reduced charge
if the governmental body determines that waiver or reduction of the
charge is in the public interest because providing the copy of the
information primarily benefits the general public.
See Express-News Transportation Reporter Pat Driscoll’s blog on this here.