Conroe, June 8 – Montgomery County Attorney J.D. Lambright announced a major open government initiative during the Citizens Budget Committee meeting on Wednesday, June 6, 2018, at Sheriff Rand Henderson’s Policy Academy Classroom. Lambright made a presentation regarding his budget during the meeting and explained the major change he is proposing.
Lambright wants to make his office the central “hub” for citizens to make open records/public information requests. Under secretive and opaque Montgomery County Judge Craig Doyal, he and his “chief of staff” jim fredricks have attempted to establish every possible roadblock to prevent citizens from obtaining public information about County government operations and finances.
Many governmental entities will provide information without formal open records requests. Under Doyal and fredricks, however, the County government:
- Requires citizens to try to figure out which County Department has records; if the citizen makes the request to the wrong department, they’re out of luck;
- Doyal, as County Judge, refuses to act as the County’s public information officer, in direct violation of the Texas Public Information Act;
- Doyal and fredricks have ordered many County Department Directors not to assist citizens in ascertaining the correct department from which to make public information requests; and
- Doyal and fredricks have ordered many County Department Directors to slow down as much as possible in responding to public information requests.
In 2016, Doyal terminated one County Department Director when she turned around a public information request from the Publisher of this newspaper in less than an hour. Many Department Directors will not provide public information for fear of losing their jobs, since Doyal and fredricks have threatened them.
In actuality, Doyal, as the chief administrative officer of the County government under Article V, Section 18, of the Texas Constitution, is the officer of public information. Under Section 552.201 of the Texas Public Information Act, if a citizen make any public information request for any County government document, Doyal is responsible for processing the request and providing the information. Doyal and fredricks, however, refuse to follow Texas law in that regard and simply deny records requests unless they actually maintain the records in their palatial office in the Sadler Administration Building.
While it’s true that each department head is an “agent” of the County Judge for public information for the purposes of complying with the Texas Public Information Act, Doyal cannot put citizens off if they don’t make the requests for public information to the appropriate “agent.” Under Texas law, the buck stops with Doyal whether he likes that or not. (Of course responding to public information requests would interfere with fredricks’ nap schedule and Doyal’s golf obligations.)
Lambright is proposing to solve this major problem by asking the County Judge to designate the County Attorney’s Office as the “hub” for receiving Texas Public Information Act requests on behalf of the entire County government, perhaps other than the Sheriff’s Office, which has its own staff and records department. Lambright’s proposed procedure would ease the burden on citizens to ascertain where documents exist within the massive bureaucracy of the County government.
Here’s an example of the type of problem Lambright’s proposed action would solve. Last year, the Citizens Budget Committee wanted each of the budget requests from each County Department to the County Auditor. Therefore, the Committee Chairman (the Publisher of this newspaper) made a request to the County Auditor and to the County Judge. The County Judge responded that he didn’t have any of the documents. The County Auditor simply refused to comply with the Texas Public Information Act and communicated that refusal to the County Attorney’s Office. Therefore, the requestor had to made a request to each and every County Department in order to obtain the proposed budgets from all of them. Ultimately, every department complied with the request, even the County Treasurer’s Officer known for her intransigence with such requests.
Under Lambright’s new procedure, the citizens could make all requests to the County Attorney, with the possible exception of records requests to the Sheriff’s Office.
In reality, the procedure would make the entire process of requesting documents from the County government far less cumbersome for the citizens making the requests and far less expensive for the taxpayers.