Open Records Now Less Open at Elections Department Thanks to District Attorney's Office

Thumbnail image for Craig_Watkins_061910.jpg
Photo by Sam Merten
If you want copies of Craig Watkins's campaign finance reports, make sure you ask him first.
When we stopped by the Elections Department Friday afternoon to speak with newly appointed Elections Administrator Toni Pippens-Poole, something odd happened. As we've done numerous times before, we pulled the campaign finance reports for all five members of the commissioners court and the district attorney. And, as we've done plenty of times in the past, we asked for copies of some. In this particular case, we wanted copies of District Attorney Craig Watkins's most recent filing.

This had previously been a rather simple request. Copies would be made. We'd pay our 10 cents a copy. Then we'd be on our way.

Not this time.

This time, we were told to wait for our request to filter through the District Attorney's Office. When everything was in order, the DA's office would get back to us.

Huh?

As Cheryl Childress, the polling location clerk at the Elections Department, told us, "Don't blame me. I'm just the messenger."

Childress said she didn't know why the policy was changed, only that it was a new policy implemented a few months ago, so we contacted Jamille Bradfield, Watkins's spokesperson, for an explanation, and she e-mailed us the following statement.

It's my understanding that there is no policy specific to requests for campaign finance reports. This type of request is treated like any other public information request received by a county department. In accordance with the Dallas County Code (see below), all records/information requests are handled by the Civil Division at the District Attorney's Office.

Sec. 74-134. Procedures.
Upon receipt of a request to view or have copied information which may be excepted from disclosure, a department head, official or county employee should forward the request to the civil section of the district attorney's office immediately.

Yesterday, Assistant Criminal District Attorney Ben Stool spent his time crafting a letter to us in which he says our 59 pages are ready. But instead of charging us $5.90, he tacked on $3.75 for "personnel time" and 75 cents for "overhead."

Of course, it's not the money that's a concern. It's the process. Why does Craig Watkins want to make it so tough for people to get a look-see at open records?



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26 comments
Bettyculbreath
Bettyculbreath

What does State law say about Campaign reports release?We could go up there and pull records and they would copy them.I have a feeling Justice Department and other Federal Officials are coming to Dallas real soon.Citizens are under siege by County Elected Officials.

quellepotat
quellepotat

Re; Observer vs. Clancy. Come on Sam, don't be coy now. You wrote the early Oct 2010 (surprise) article which inferred that Watkins' middle aged white male Republican opponent was a priviledged whiner or worse --that he actually faked the vandalism of his own SUV, thus iinsuring the derision of potential voters. .The Dallas O (or Big D Zero in some circles )missed an opportunity to actually do some due diligence investigation of Mr. Watkins by at least finding some of his previous( pre DA ) co-workers to whom none of the recent revelations are astonishing.

FDR
FDR

It is only the beginning

Jay D
Jay D

Possibly Mr. Watkins was absent from law school on the days they taught law. County Code Section 74-134 applies to information which "may" be exempted from disclosure. The Texas Election Code and Government Code make it abundantly clear that campaign finance reports are public information tobe made available upon request. By anyone. There is no determination of disclosure to be made by the Civil Section of the DA's office. There may question however of whether refusal to provide campaign finance reports upon request is a criminal offense.

Coleman
Coleman

What the fuck kind of overhead are they paying for that the 10 cents a copy doesn't cover? Jeez, what a scumbag

quellepotat
quellepotat

As I recall, wasn't the Observer instrumental in the support of Watkins' election campaign as well as others of equal ethical stature , by relentlessly attacking his opponent (somewhat ruthlessly and personally as I remember it). Sorry now? (No I didn't think so)

fred
fred

Well looks very blatant doesn't it? Price and Watkins have managed a take-over. So there go ethics and 'transparency' - it's all about sticking it to 'the man'.

J. Erik Jonsson
J. Erik Jonsson

If he makes it too difficult, can't you just get these from the TEC?

Joshua
Joshua

Did Watkins office ask why only White People were making these requests and then tell you to "go to hell?" That is apparently the NEW WAY that Dallas County Commissioners Court Policy works...given that Judge Jenkins seemed not to have ANY protest about such processes.

cp
cp

Wow. Way to go Dallas County straight-ticket Democrat voters for electing this tyrant. Whatever happened to transparency?

Publicintegrity
Publicintegrity

Please post the records Neerman was eventually given and the reports you received.

JS
JS

If you want to compose an enemies list, you need to know who is digging around in your business!

Jean Val Jean
Jean Val Jean

"Why does Craig Watkins want to make it so tough for people to get a look-see at open records?"

That's a rhetorical question, right?

Kevin
Kevin

Jay D, please cite your relevant statutes of the Election Code and Government Code, as they apply to local county-level officials, who are not required to file their statements and reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.

Guest
Guest

I think we all pretty well know by now that district attorneys and their buddies are above the law.

When a non-DA does something, it's a felony. When a D.A. does it, it's completely kosher (right former Collin County D.A. who defended falsifying official records when his office did it and got indictments against the County Clerk's Office for doing the same thing).

Kevin
Kevin

The kind that involves attorneys. If a lawyer from the DA's office takes the time to respond to the open records request, they are well within their rights to charge for whatever time and effort he or she put into researching the records and collating and making copies.

cp
cp

Well, you have to consider all the labor that goes into actually physically putting the paper in the machine and pressing the start button. I can imagine all that collating takes away valuable staff time....

Fred
Fred

Maybe the other money goes into the pocket?

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Please provide links to our relentless and ruthless attacks of Danny Clancy.

Jay D
Jay D

That's right...the future of New Detroit on the Trinity never look better...

Sam_Merten
Sam_Merten

Nope. Unfortunately, they are only available at the Elections Department.

Pam
Pam

Excellent question, CP. Whatever happened to Garcia's pledge for transparency? Several weeks ago, there was an item on the Commissioner's Court briefing agenda regarding up-grades to financial disclosures for elected county officials. Nothing about it on the last two briefing agendas.

Jay D
Jay D

Former Collin County DA John Roach is a fine example of a criminal DA. Yes, he filed charges against the clerk-elect for falsifying time sheets......a practice he often used in his own office.

Goodgovernance
Goodgovernance

Where is the check or balance in any of that? Why in this day and age can't one get the information online? And, given the new "system" what is to stop any elected official from supressing their campaign information then? Seems to me we need a non-political referee like the TEC to get involved. How to get this changed and make sure that the public's interest comes first?

Kevin
Kevin

Dallas County currently does not have a method in place to scan and convert the paper documents filed into an online site. However, it is available to anyone, if they follow the State and County laws involved in obtaining this information. Open Records does not mean free records or easily accessible records; it means that you can get them if you follow the procedures put in place.

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