“On the Record: How Some Local Governments are Violating the Law and the Public’s Trust in Records Requests”
The Dallas Morning News
January 23, 2015
In 2015, The Dallas Morning News demystified the process of seeking open records for local readers and showed how failures in transparency may affect their lives.
In the yearlong investigation, a reporting team tested the open government practices of more than 100 cities, counties and school districts in North Texas. The project focused on compliance with the state’s open records law, the Texas Public Information Act.
Grades were assigned for all 113 agencies examined in the report. The results were chronicled in a front-page story and multi-part interactive. Digital report cards were compiled for each of the government entities. (Seehttp://labs.dallasnews.com/reportcard/transparency-2015/)
We also created a web app, On the Record, which walks readers through filing an open records request online. (See http://labs.dallasnews.com/on-the-record/)
The app features an open records request tracker that gives users the option to let other visitors know if their requests were answered. The app also serves as a clearinghouse for information on open government best practices and tips for obtaining public documents.
Our goal was to produce a package that would provide an ongoing public service to our readers and encourage government officials to err on the side of transparency.
Since publication, city, county and school officials have contacted us to seek advice to improve their open government scores. Many of these government entities have made visible changes to their freedom of information practices.
The longtime city of Sachse secretary, whose troubling public information practices were highlighted in the report and in an editorial, announced he would retire a few months after the report was released. The Richardson school district, which was highlighted in the report after it sought to charge thousands of dollars for basic information, contacted us to discuss changes to its public information practices. And Rockwall County, which earned a failing grade on our transparency report card, held a public meeting to take action on the issues outlined in our interactive report.
Our project led to an ongoing conversation with our readers about systemic open government issues in our area, and for that we are proud to enter it in the Texas APME Freedom of Information category.
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Submitted by Keith Campbell.