News

Texas Attorney General Accepts Children’s Assertion On Open Records

This publication has been attempting to have the Texas Attorney General rule that the El Paso Children’s Hospital is subject to the Texas Public Information Act since April. It is our position that the El Paso Children’s Hospital is a government funded operation that makes it subject to the Texas Public Information Act.

The children’s hospital has argued that it is not subject to requests for public information because it is a nonprofit organization. However, we believe that as an entity wholly owned by the University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC), a public hospital, the children’s hospital should be subject to the Texas Public Information Act.

We believe that the only entity that can make an official determination of whether an organization is subject to open records requests is the Texas Attorney General. However, we have no mechanism to force the Texas Attorney General to rule on the matter. However, we did submit a complaint to the attorney general’s office of the children’s hospital’s refusal to honor our open records requests. We also asked the El Paso County Attorney to intervene on behalf of the city’s taxpayers. Jo Anne Bernal twice declined to seek the attorney general’s opinion on the matter citing a legal case as precedence that we do not believe applies to the case of El Paso Children’s Hospital.

At first the Texas Attorney General seemed to suggest that the children’s hospital was subject to open records requests when it told us it had sent a letter to the children’s hospital providing them ten days to respond to our request.

Attorney General Accepts Children’s Position

Last Friday we received a letter from the Texas Attorney General’s office advising us that they are closing the file on the matter. According to the letter, the El Paso Children’s Hospital informed them that “it is not a governmental body subject to the requirements” of the open record law.

We do not know on what case law the children’s hospital is using for their assertion, if any, nor were we given an opportunity to contest their assertion by the Texas Attorney General’s office.

As we have no standing to demand a ruling by the Texas Attorney General’s office, we cannot request one. We have asked city representatives and county commissioners to request an opinion, but all have declined our requests without a response to us. Elected officials are one of the few officials that can request the Texas Attorney General to issue a ruling.

Attorney General Ruled On ERCOT

As readers will remember, Texas experience electrical blackouts across much of the state last winter. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has been blamed for the electrical grid failure. ERCOT insulated itself from several lawsuits by claiming it “was a public agency”. But it also claimed that it was not a “public entity” and thus not subject to the Texas Public Information Act.

Last Tuesday, the Texas Attorney General sided with ERCOT, opining that they are not subject to public records requests.

According to the Dallas Morning News, an attorney working for the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas stated, “that challenges to a ruling such as the one issued Tuesday by Paxton (Attorney General) could spur lawsuits and possibly head to the state Supreme Court.” [1]

Local members of the leadership of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, a private advocacy group for public information, include Tim Archuleta, Executive Editor of the El Paso Times and Brenda de Anda-Swann, the news director at KVIA. We are hopeful that they would consider asking the foundation to help us pursue this matter. Readers can help by contacting both Archuleta and De Anda-Swann at their respective news outlets asking them to take up the cause for governmental transparency on behalf of the taxpayers of El Paso.

El Paso Politics continues to believe that the children’s hospital is subject to the Texas Public Information Act and we believe that if allowed to present our case we would prevail in our belief. We are now evaluating whether a legal action is possible to force the question. We will continue to report on this matter as new information becomes available.

Footnote:

  1. Morgan O’Hanlon, “Attorney General Ken Paxton rules ERCOT not subject to Texas Public Information Act,” Dallas Morning News, June 23 ,2021.

1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.