Whether in politically seismic times such as ours or more settled periods, certain truths endure. One is that government — local, state and federal — will often seek to control and contain the release of information. Government will often equivocate, evade and outright hide information on how it executes its duties and legal obligations — and, most importantly, it will often conspire to hide how it spends your tax dollars.
And when men and women act more like sheep than vigilant citizenry, they play into the hands of government.
For Texans who expect transparency from state government, red flags are up regarding State Attorney General Ken Paxton. One of his most important sworn duties is ensuring the public and press have unfettered access to government information guaranteed us all by state law. Yet a remarkable video of Marc Rylander, Paxton’s director of communications, speaking wildly at an open-government seminar last month, raises serious questions about Paxton’s integrity and whether his office plays political favorites in how it oversees dissemination of public information.
In the seminar, Rylander giddily alluded to what we often see in government: The public or press makes a formal public information request, then government officials “wait until the 23rd hour of the 10th day to send it back to them.” Rylander acknowledged he was supposed to tell government officials not to do this, then added: “It depends on who the reporter is. Can we name names? I promised the attorney general I would not say anything bad about The Dallas Morning News, so I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to call any paper by name.”
By the end of what was supposed to be an informative session on how government officials are to follow legal protocols in promptly releasing public information, Rylander had gone off the rails, mounting a tirade about the many failings of the news media, particularly The Dallas Morning News — probably because it reports on criminal securities charges against Paxton. Given this display, no Texan should be surprised when he or she seeks public information — and is greeted instead with delay, excuses or denial by bureaucratic officials.
Those who hate the news media will say they deserve such obstruction. Maybe. But one thing we’ve noticed over the years: Regardless of politics, many Texans at one time or another seek out public information or urge (if not demand) the press seek such public information. When denied, one will be justified in wondering whether Attorney General Paxton and his staff are urging governmental officials at all levels to confound those who, armed with knowledge, might otherwise call them out. If state lawmakers cherish their constituents above their political cronies, they will call Paxton out. If they do not, the entire cabal needs to be turned out in the name of accountability.
And, by the way, to clear up a fallacy: The 10-day mark is the deadline for a governmental body, if it sincerely believes the information is not public, to seek an attorney general’s decision allowing it to withhold the information. Otherwise, it must be released promptly.