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Secret files, missing agenda postings, hidden tax-paid consulting fees, withheld body camera footage among government controversies in Texas which have drawn scrutiny during past year

FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-Mission; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen; and former McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. The area leaders were participating in the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 87th Legislative Session Wrap-up Luncheon, held on Wednesday, November 17, 2021, at The Old Church Performance and Event Venue, 700 Main Street, McAllen. The Rio Grande Valley state lawmakers have a long history of supporting the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act.



Secret files, missing agenda postings, hidden tax-paid consulting fees, withheld body camera footage among government controversies in Texas which have drawn scrutiny during past year

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Should a Chinese firm be allowed to destroy all “secret files” of their work with a state medical laboratory?

What happens if a local government in Texas does not physically post its agendas at its city hall for upcoming public meetings?

Can a public university refuse to reveal how much it pays for consulting fees?

Why isn’t a sheriff’s office in north Texas sharing the body camera footage of the shooting of a suspect?

Those and numerous other controversies doing the past year dealing with the Texas Public Information Act and the Texas Open Meetings Act drew headlines, and in doing so, placed a spotlight on the ongoing struggles between what governments in Texas can and cannot when conducting the public’s business, according to the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas works to encourage a greater appreciation, knowledge and understanding of the First Amendment and helps to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public. Since its formation in 1978, the Foundation has helped citizens access government meetings and documents.

The Foundation seeks to inform journalists, legal professionals, educators, students, public officials and individual citizens about their rights and responsibilities as participants in our democracy. With the clear objective to protect and preserve the state’s open meetings and open records laws, the non-partisan Foundation acts as a statewide information clearinghouse and offers guidance and assistance on FOI-related issues through a network of attorneys and through public seminars and conferences. FOIFT is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) supported through grants and tax-deductible donations from individuals, corporations and foundations.

The Texas Open Meetings Act was enacted to ensure that Texas government is transparent, open and accountable to all Texans. It requires that state and local governmental entities conduct public business responsibly and in accordance with the law.

The Texas Public Information Act assures that government entities give citizens access to information about what public servants are doing on their behalf — information they need to gain a more complete understanding of how their government works and hold their public officials accountable.

According to Ballotpedia, which is a nonprofit and nonpartisan online political encyclopedia that covers federal, state, and local politics, elections, and public policy in the United States:

Openness, accountability, and honesty define government transparency. In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.

Governments exist to serve the people. Information on how officials conduct the public business and spend taxpayers’ money must be readily available and easily understood. This transparency allows good and just governance.

Based on information put together by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, highlights of recent news coverage in Texas involving controversies involving the Texas Open Meetings Act and the Texas Public Information Act follow:

Wuhan lab can delete data in ‘explosive’ legal agreement with Texas lab

By Emily Kopp
U.S. Right to Know
Originally published April 20, 2022

The Wuhan Institute of Virology has the right to ask a partnering lab in the U.S. to destroy all records of their work, according to a legal document obtained by U.S. Right to Know.

A memorandum of understanding between the Wuhan lab and the Galveston National Laboratory at the University of Texas Medical Branch states that each lab can ask the other to return or “destroy” any so-called “secret files” — any communications, documents, data or equipment resulting from their collaboration — and ask that they wipe any copies.

“The party is entitled to ask the other to destroy and/or return the secret files, materials and equipment without any backups,” it states.

For the full story, log on to:


Fort Worth open meetings violation reveals confusing public participation process

By Rachel Behrndt
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Originally published April 14, 2022

The Fort Worth City Council was forced to cancel two meetings and re-ratify its actions stretching from September 2021 to March 2022 after staff discovered the city failed to post physical agendas in City Hall.

Under the Texas Open Meetings Act, local governments are required to post agendas for upcoming meetings online and physically within City Hall 72 hours before a scheduled meeting, with some exceptions.

Previous reporting by the Fort Worth Report led to the discovery that agendas for Fort Worth City Council meetings were not in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act starting from Sept. 1, 2021, to March 18, 2022.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbottsuspended the requirement of physical meeting notices for government meetings on March 16, 2020, after declaring a state of disaster in Texas earlier that month. The executive order, meant to prevent in-person gatherings,expired on Sept. 1, 2021.

Failure to post physical agendas within City Hall could pose a barrier to participation for residents without access to the internet, said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

For the full story, log on to:


Federal judge rules Texas drone law violates First Amendment

By Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
Originally published April 4, 2022

Federal Judge Robert Pitman struck down Texas’ drone photography law, ruling it violates the First Amendment.

The law prevented journalists from gathering news. As attorney Jim Hemphill, an FOI Foundation of Texas board member, explains in an article by Alicia Calzada, the decision confirms drone photography is “an integral tool in 21st-Century journalism.”

For the full story, published by the National Press Photographers Association, the plaintiff in the lawsuit, log on to:


How the University of Texas defers to business interests in public records requests

By Asher Price
Originally published March 2, 2022

Axios Austin is currently embroiled in three open records disputes with the University of Texas.

Why it matters: University officials acknowledge they are deferring to business interests — instead of simply releasing information to the public.

Details: UT officials are refusing to say how much money the public university has agreed to pay one outside firm to assist in its ongoing law school dean search or how much it’s contracted to pay another to consult on name-image-likeness issues involving student-athletes.

For the full story, log on to:


Mother of man killed by Denton County deputies in 2019 still holding out for footage

By Zaira Pérez
Denton Record-Chronicle
Originally published February 23, 2022

More than two years after her son’s death at the hands of Denton County deputies, Cheryl Kristin Adams said she still thinks about the fatal shooting every day.

Adams said she still doesn’t have closure because she said the sheriff’s office isn’t sharing the body camera footage from that night even though she has requested body camera footage showing the shooting of her son, Kristopher Adams, on Sept. 16, 2019.

…Jim Hemphill, an attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the sheriff’s office might be relying on “an exemption that says material regarding an investigation that did not result in charges being filed or an indictment being issued or a conviction can be exempt.”

“That’s used a lot for in-custody deaths,” he added.

It’s a loophole he said advocates in Texas are lobbying the Legislature to close. And, he said, it’s a loophole more and more law enforcement agencies are using to shield information.

For the full story, log on to:


City of Odessa discusses the Odessa American lawsuit dismissal

By Hannah Burbank
Originally broadcast February 16, 2022

A judge dismissed the Odessa American’s lawsuit against the City of Odessa. On Tuesday, City Council discussed the court’s order.

The Odessa American claims the city violated the Texas Public Information Act; however the City said it did nothing wrong.

The Odessa American said the city was redacting information but city officials said they were only redacting information like Social Security numbers and license numbers.

The newspaper also contended that the city wasn’t releasing public records in a timely manner.

For the full story, log on to:


After backlash, Texas comptroller abandons plan to hide details of controversial tax break program

By Mike Morris, John Tedesco
Houston Chronicle
Originally published January 28, 2022

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is backing away from a proposal to reduce the information his office collects on the state’s largest corporate incentive program amid an avalanche of criticism from Texans concerned about the future cost to the state.

Hundreds of residents and some lawmakers submitted comments on the proposal after Hegar’s office made it public in November – and nearly all of them opposed the idea.“I’m not going to adopt it as proposed,” Hegar said Friday. “The data that people are concerned about or want is still going to be available.”

For the full story, log on to:


Texas AG Ken Paxton must turn over Trump rally records or face lawsuit, Travis County DA says

By Lauren McGaughy
John Tedesco and Jay Root
The Dallas Morning News and
Houston Chronicle
Originally published January 13, 2022

The Travis County district attorney has determined that Attorney General Ken Paxton violated Texas’ open records law by not turning over his communications from January 2021, when he appeared at the pro-Trump rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The district attorney gave Paxton four days to remedy the issue or face a lawsuit.

The probe was prompted by a complaint filed by top editors at several of the state’s largest newspapers: the Austin American-Statesman, Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News.

In a letter hand delivered to Paxtonon Thursday, the district attorney’s head of public integrity said her investigation showed the attorney general’s office broke state law by withholding or failing to retain his own communications that should be subject to public release.

For the full story, log on to:


Threats from Gov. Abbott among reasons why a Texas school district keeps book challenges secretive

By Talia Richman
The Dallas Morning News
Originally published January 10, 2022

Fear of retribution from Gov. Greg Abbott contributes to Keller school officials’ push to keep deliberations about which books to ban from libraries private.

… Joe Larsen, an attorney on the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas board of directors, reviewed Keller ISD’s arguments. But despite the district’s concerns, he said, book challenge committee meetings should be open to the public because of the decisions members are empowered to make.

“What we’re able to read is the basis of a free society,” Larsen said. “There are obviously going to be controversies over what is and what isn’t appropriate for younger minds to read.”

For the full story, log on to:


Texas open government advocates notch legislative wins but want more

By Daniel Van Oudenaren
The Austin Bulldog
Originally published November 10, 2021

Advocates who pushed for changes to Texas’s public information laws at the legislature this year are celebrating a handful of wins but fell short on some of their agenda. Two new transparency laws took effect September 1, 2021, the fruit of a bipartisan effort:

Senate Bill 930 by state Senator Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which ensures that families of nursing home residents have access to information about outbreaks of communicable diseases within the facilities; and

Senate Bill 1225 by Senator Joan Huffman, R-Houston, which tightens the catastrophe exception in Texas Public Information Act But at least seven other bills called for by journalists, media lawyers and other stakeholders fell short.

For the full story, log on to:


IDEA Public Schools sues attorney general to keep hotel purchase records secret

By Dave Hendricks
Progress Times
Originally published October 29, 2021

IDEA Public Schools filed a lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in mid-October, attempting to block the release of records that may explain why the charter school system purchased a hotel in Cameron County.

IDEA purchased the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, a boutique hotel in Los Fresnos, during October 2019.

According to documents filed with the Cameron County Clerk’s Office, the Cameron County Appraisal District valued the hotel and surrounding property at more than $1 million.

For the full story, log on to:


Researchers examine Texas, other state laws on public records response requirement, times

By Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
Originally Published on October 26, 2021

Five research papers were accepted to the third annual National Freedom of Information Coalition FOI research competition, which was presented online September 28, 2021, at the national FOI Summit.

In all, seven one-page proposals were entered and five selected through double-blind peer review for final consideration. Then, a team of eight expert judges rated the full manuscripts based on importance, relevance to practitioners, and strength of methodology.

Three of the papers earned cash prizes for excellence, of $500, $300 and $200.

Top papers are guaranteed publication in the University of Florida’s Journal of Civic Information, which welcomes submissions from all researchers.

The first-place paper was written by Amy Kristin Sanders of the University of Texas and Daxton “Chip” Stewart of TCU examining laws pertaining to responses to public information requests in Texas and other states.

For the full story, log on to:


Video recordings from the FOI Foundation’s September 24, 2021, state conference in Austin:

Panel: Law enforcement transparency – Where do we stand?

Panel: Texas Legislature – Looking Ahead

Panel: Pro tips – Managing information roadblocks

Spirit of FOI Awards Presentation

James Madison Award presentation honoring Patrick Canty

Luncheon Keynote: Interview of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, by Bob Garrett of the Dallas Morning News; preceded by FOIFT board president Arif Panju remembering FOI hero Ralph Langer.


New transparency laws effective September 1, 2021

By Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas
Originally Published September 2, 2021

Two new Texas transparency laws passed in the spring 2021 legislative session took effect September 1, 2021, addressing public records problems that arose during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senate Bill 930 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, ensures that governmental entities must release information on COVID-19 and other communicable disease outbreaks in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

The names and locations of the facilities must be made available to the public. Individual patient information will be protected.

Senate Bill 1225 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, clarifies the “catastrophe notice” provision of the Texas Public Information Act to prevent abuse of the law during a time of emergency.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some governments filed multiple catastrophe notices with the Texas attorney general, claiming they didn’t have to respond to open records requests for weeks on end.

The law was clarified to note that only one seven-day pause in replying to TPIA requests, and possibly one seven-day extension, are allowed per emergency under the catastrophe notice provision.

Meanwhile, parts of the Texas Open Meetings Act that Gov. Greg Abbott temporarily suspended at the start of the pandemic were back in place as of September 1, 2021. Abbott announced earlier in the Summer 2021 that he was lifting the Texas Open Meeting Act suspensions.

Click here to see a list of the suspensions.


The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is calling on all long-term care facilities to make sure their emergency preparedness plans are updated as an active hurricane season has been forecasted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Providers across the state are urged to review these emergency preparedness and response plans.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which affects the Gulf Coast of Texas, runs from June 1 until November 30, 2022.

“We are reminding providers how urgent it is to ensure that their plans are updated and that staff at every level are trained on how to fully execute them,” said Stephen Pahl, Deputy Executive Commissioner, Regulatory Services Division, Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

“We all know how unpredictable and dangerous the Texas hurricane season can be, so it is critical that facilities do everything they can in advance to protect residents’ health and safety.”

Long-term care providers include nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, hospices, intermediate care facilities and Home and Community-based Services group homes.

These facilities are required to regularly prepare for natural disasters, including hurricanes and flooding.

A complete emergency preparedness and response plan includes up-to-date information about evacuation destinations, transportation plans, responsibilities of staff members, continuation of care and treatments for residents, and communication procedures.

The Health and Human Services Commission issues guidance to providers about updating their plans and encourages facilities to visit the DSHS Texas Ready website for helpful hurricane preparedness resources, including sample plans, disaster supply checklists, and more information on preparing for hurricanes and other emergencies.

In addition to long-term care facilities, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission also requires hospitals, dialysis centers, and state-regulated child-care operations to maintain an updated emergency plan and ensure staff are fully trained on how to execute it.

Emergency preparedness plans should continue to address COVID-19 contingencies, including securing supplies of personal protective equipment and maintaining infection control measures during evacuations or sheltering-in-place.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which affects the Gulf Coast of Texas, runs from June 1 until November 30.

About Texas HHS Disaster Services

In the event of an emergency, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission is ready to help by providing regulatory support for health care facilities, long-term care facilities, and child-care operations; public health and medical support; shelters for people with medical needs; disaster food assistance; counseling services assistance; water and ice; and special waivers for Medicaid providers and clients as needed.

For more information, visit the Texas HHSC Disaster Services website.


An above-normal 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season is being anticipated by forecasters with the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Weather Service — which would make it the seventh consecutive above-average hurricane season.

That outlook is for overall seasonal activity and is not a landfall forecast.

The Climate Prediction Center is a United States federal agency that is one of the National Centers for Environmental Prediction, which are a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service ((NOAA /?no?.?/ NOH-?).

CPC is headquartered in College Park, Maryland.

NOAA is is an American scientific and regulatory agency within the United States Department of Commerce that forecasts weather, monitors oceanic and atmospheric conditions, charts the seas, conducts deep sea exploration, and manages fishing and protection of marine mammals and endangered species in the U.S. exclusive economic zone.

The NOAA outlook for the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season, which extends from June 1 to November 30, predicts a 65 percent chance of an above-normal season, a 25 percent chance of a near-normal season and a 10% chance of a below-normal season.

For the 2022 hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is forecasting a likely range of 14 to 21 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including three to six major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher).

NOAA provides these ranges with a 70 percent confidence.

“Early preparation and understanding your risk is key to being hurricane resilient and climate-ready,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. “Throughout the hurricane season, our experts will work around-the-clock to provide early and accurate forecasts and warnings that communities in the path of storms can depend on to stay informed.”

The increased activity anticipated this hurricane season is attributed to several climate factors, including the ongoing La Niña that is likely to persist throughout the hurricane season, warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, weaker tropical Atlantic trade winds and an enhanced west African monsoon.

An enhanced west African monsoon supports stronger African Easterly Waves, which seed many of the strongest and longest lived hurricanes during most seasons. The way in which climate change impacts the strength and frequency of tropical cyclones is a continuous area of study for NOAA scientists.

“As we reflect on another potentially busy hurricane season, past storms — such as Superstorm Sandy, which devastated the New York metro area ten years ago — remind us that the impact of one storm can be felt for years,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., Administrator, NOAA. “Since Sandy, NOAA’s forecasting accuracy has continued to improve, allowing us to better predict the impacts of major hurricanes to lives and livelihoods.”

Additionally, NOAA has enhanced the following products and services this hurricane season:

To improve the understanding and prediction of how hurricanes intensify, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Lab and Pacific Marine Environmental Lab will operate five Saildrone uncrewed surface vehicles during the peak of the 2022 hurricane season and coordinate for the first time with uncrewed ocean gliders, small aircraft drone systems, and NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft to measure the ocean, atmosphere and areas where they meet.

The Hurricane Weather Research and Forecast Modeling System and Hurricanes in a Multi-scale Ocean-coupled Non-hydrostatic model, which have shown significant skill improvements in terms of storm track and intensity forecasts, have been successfully transitioned to the newest version of the Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System, allowing for uninterrupted operational forecasts.

The Excessive Rainfall Outlook (ERO) has been experimentally extended from three to five days of lead time, giving more notice of rainfall-related flash flooding risks from tropical storms and hurricanes.

The ERO forecasts and maps the probability of intense rainfall that could lead to flash flooding within 25 miles of a given point.

During June, NOAA is scheduled to enhance an experimental graphic that depicts the Peak Storm Surge Forecast when storm surge watches or warnings are in effect.

Upgrades include an updated disclaimer and color coding that illustrates the peak storm surge inundation forecast at the coast. This tool is currently only available in the Atlantic basin.

“Hurricane Ida spanned nine states, demonstrating that anyone can be in the direct path of a hurricane and in danger from the remnants of a storm system,” said Deanne Criswell, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It’s important for everyone to understand their risk and take proactive steps to get ready now by visiting and for preparedness tips, and by downloading the FEMA App to make sure you are receiving emergency alerts in real-time.”

In addition to the Atlantic seasonal outlook, NOAA has also issued seasonal hurricane outlooks for the eastern Pacific and central Pacific hurricane basins. NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center will update the 2022 Atlantic seasonal outlook in early August, just prior to the historical peak of the season.


Jennifer Ruffcorn and Jasmine Blackwell contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (

Titans of the Texas Legislature

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