|Office of the Attorney General - State of Texas
February 3, 2000
Ms. Judith Hunter
Dear Ms. Hunter:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#131848.
The City of Georgetown (the "city") received a request for all information regarding the Georgetown Municipal Airport from the time of negotiations for its acquisition in 1943 to the present. You explain that "[d]ue to the broad scope of the request, [the city] responded with a request for clarification and received a response from the requestor which did not narrow the scope of the request." You further explain that "[d]ue to the vast time expanse of the request and the voluminous amount of material to be reviewed, it is impossible for the city to determine at the outset what exceptions . . . may apply[.]" You therefore raise no exceptions to disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code at this time. You request that the city "be allowed to preserve its right to raise exceptions that may become pertinent as the examination of records progresses."(1)
It is well-established that a governmental body must make a good faith effort to relate a request to information held by it. Open Records Decision Nos. 561 at 8-9 (1990), 87 (1975). However, if a governmental body is unable to determine the nature of the records being sought, section 552.222(b) provides that the governmental body may ask the requestor to clarify the request so that the desired records may be identified. See also Open Records Decision No. 304 (1982). Section 552.222(b) also provides that if a large amount of information has been requested, the governmental body may discuss with the requestor how the scope of the request might be narrowed. See Open Records Decision No. 87 at 3 (1975).(2) In this regard, it is proper for a governmental body to advise the requestor of the types of information available so that he may narrow his request. Open Records Decision Nos. 633 (1995); 31 (1974); see also Open Records Decision No. 561 (1990) at 8-9.
In this instance, you sent a request for clarification to the requestor in which you asked the requestor to "specify in more detail exactly what records [she is] requesting[.]" You did not, however, advise the requestor of the types of information available. The requestor responded to your request for clarification by stating: "I want to begin with the records maintained at the airport, then go to the financial records. Let's begin with the current information and work backwards." In subsequent correspondences, the requestor specifically names "documents memorializing the transfer and all current leases, grants, [and] conditions of participation at the airport" and "waiting lists, income and expense statements" as among the documents requested. In this instance, we believe that although the request is broad, it is sufficiently clear and understandable to inform the city of the records being requested. See Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977) (difficulty in complying with act does not determine availability of information); Open Records Decision Nos. 499 at 6 (1988), 497 at 4 (1988).
We note that you did not submit to this office copies of any responsive information. See Gov't Code § 552.301(e)(1)(D). When a governmental body requests an attorney general decision, section 552.301(e)(1)(D) requires that the governmental body submit to the attorney general "a copy of the specific information requested, or submit representative samples of the information if a voluminous amount of information was requested." In this case, it was appropriate for the city to submit to this office a representative sample of the requested information. See Industrial Found. v. Texas Indus. Accident Bd., 540 S.W.2d 668 (1976), cert. denied, 430 U.S. 931 (1977) (cost or difficulty in complying with act does not determine availability of information); Open Records Decision Nos. 499 at 6 (1988), 497 at 4 (1988).
When the governmental body fails to comply with section 552.301(e), the requested information is presumed to be subject to required public disclosure and must be released unless the governmental body demonstrates a compelling reason to withhold the information. Gov't Code § 552.302; see also Hancock v. State Bd. of Ins., 797 S.W.2d 379, 381-82 (Tex. App.--Austin 1990, no writ) (governmental body must make compelling demonstration to overcome presumption of openness pursuant to statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.302); Open Records Decision No. 319 (1982). Therefore, as provided by section 552.302, the information that is the subject of this request for information is presumed to be public. You have not raised any exceptions to disclosure for the requested records, see Gov't Code § 552.301(e)(1)(A), nor have you demonstrated a compelling interest to overcome the presumption that the information at issue is public, see Gov't Code § 552.302. Accordingly, section 552.302 compels the release of the requested information. We caution, however, that section 552.352 of the Government Code imposes criminal penalties for the release of confidential information.
This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.
This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code § 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. § 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. § 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. § 552.321(a).
If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. § 552.3215(e).
If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. § 552.321(a); Texas Dep't of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).
If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.
Kay H. Hastings
cc: Ms. Penny Puryear Burt
1. Section 552.301(b) of the Government Code requires that a governmental body state the exceptions that apply within ten business days after the date of receiving the written request. Accordingly, we are unable to grant the city's request to "preserve its right to raise exceptions [to disclosure.]"
2. However, the governmental body may not inquire into the purpose for which information will be used. Gov't Code § 552.222(a), (b).
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