Following the latest attempt by city officials to block records from public view, a Killeen city councilman is calling for an examination of how the city handles public information requests.

It’s a discussion well worth having.

The city’s handling of public information has been a source of concern in recent months, with several council members calling for better transparency.

Newly elected City Councilman Gregory Johnson has taken it one step further, formally requesting that the city’s new mayor, Jose Segarra, and interim city manager, Ann Farris, look into the city’s protocol regarding public information requests. He asked that the issue be listed as a discussion topic at an upcoming council meeting, and Farris has placed it on the agenda for Tuesday’s workshop.

Johnson’s request comes on the heels of the city’s recent attempt to block public access to records pertaining to former Mayor Scott Cosper.

The city filed its request with the state attorney general’s office on April 15, about three weeks after a private investigator asked the Killeen Police Department for any possible “offense reports” relating to the former mayor, whose two-year term ended last month.

While the city eventually released some documents to the Herald that were initially requested by the investigator, officials did so only after several delays and significant prodding — and without informing the Herald of their prior request to the AG’s office to withhold some of the information. The city belatedly acknowledged the AG request, but the city’s public information director, Hilary Shine, wouldn’t provide the date it was submitted.

Further, Shine offered differing reasons for denying the information over the course of several days before finally complying with the request, in part.

The city’s foot-dragging response did more than block information to the media. It also potentially impacted the city’s voters at a crucial time.

Cosper, who subsequently won the Republican runoff for the Texas House District 54 seat, had sent a campaign mailer alleging that a private investigator had been hired to dig into his family’s affairs. When the Herald filed a request with city asking for a copy of such a request, the city complied within 24 hours, producing the letter from a Round Rock-based investigator seeking reports on Cosper.

However, the city subsequently failed to quickly produce any responsive documents or deny that any such documents existed, thereby creating the impression that potentially damaging information was being withheld.

However, the documents the city eventually released — after the runoff election date — contained little of substance and nothing negative about Cosper.

Further, by providing several, seemingly arbitrary reasons for withholding the information, Shine created the impression that there are no set rules governing the release of information — an issue that certainly must be addressed.

In response to these events, Johnson wrote to city officials, “It is important, as representatives of the people, that we are fair, open and transparent.”

Johnson is to be commended for standing on principle. It’s imperative that other council members join his efforts to clarify city policy and push for increased transparency.

Further, it is crucial that council members consider these issues when vetting applicants for the open District 2 seat — a process they will begin at Tuesday’s meeting. The successful applicant should be committed to transparency at all levels — from public information to the city’s budgeting and accounting process.

Finally, it’s essential council members look for a strong commitment in these areas when interviewing candidates for city manager in the coming months — a process crucial to the city’s future.

The only way to remove the cloud that has been hanging over City Hall is to commit to bringing in some sunshine — in the form of transparency and accountability.

And the time to start talking about that commitment is now.

Contact Dave Miller at dmiller@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7543

(3) comments

Eliza

@ Further, Shine offered differing reasons for denying the information over the course of several days before finally complying with the request, in part.---

Isn't this the same Song & Dance, that has been given in the past when a citizen has ask for information which is considered 'Secret and to be known only to City workers' and the Same City Worker is usually the spokes Person giving this reply to the citizen.
I remember when Jonathan Okray would try to bring knowledge to the public about city government, and all of the many stones that were thrown in his path to keep from giving the answers.

I believe that city employees should remember who is paying their pay checks, It is not the one or ones who gave them the large pay raise when they moved into their city hall office, but, those who have the right to know the information their Reps ask for or through Freedom of Speech Benefits applied for through their Local News Papers.

Bear3

I am of the opinion that as long as this corrupt administration exists; these corrupt practices will continue.
How long do these Administrators get to continue breaking these open records laws?
Not only is Administration not doing their due diligence, but the PIO and Police Chief are clearly covering for Scott Cosper. The practice of 'modifying / altering' information an illegal act in itself. The City Attorney's office is infamous for taking pst files and other data and 'modifying / altering' them as well.
When will these corrupt practices be stopped by management from within?!

Alvin
Alvin

This is the personal opinion of this writer.
Copy: 'Following the latest attempt by city officials to block records from public view, a Killeen city councilman is calling for an examination of how the city handles public information requests.
It’s a discussion well worth having.' End of copy.
Yes, I agree, this city has got to stop withholding information from the citizens. I commend councilman Gregory Johnson for his taking a stand, but 'what about you other 6 councilmen, the mayor, Jose Segarra, and the interim city manager, Ann Farris?' What is this council going to do to provide the transparency requested and required by the city of Killeen?
In this regard, why has the city of Killeen, again blocked information relative to Scott Cosper? Where is the 'Transparency' that the city boasts about providing? Copy: 'City of Killeen blocking public release of any Cosper records'. End of copy.
Is the city talking 'out of both sides of it's face?' In my opinion, this city needs to come clean and 'open this city's decorum with respect to 'what is going to be withheld from the citizens of this town' otherwise 'What's the use of holding city council meetings if this city is just going to go behind close doors and hold, 'in secret', all of the pertinent goings on that pertains to this city?'
What 'is' so secret about the information regarding Cosper that this city has continued to block this information? I believe this city has the 'right' to know what's going on.
One of the 3% who voted.

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