The influx in open records requests is leading the city to hire a new position to help fulfill requests. Leander City Council voted 5-1 Nov. 7 to amend the fiscal year 2019-20 budget to hire an additional deputy city secretary position to assist with fulfilling open records requests.
Information produced by state and local agencies falls under the Texas Public Information Act, meaning the public has the right to view it. Requestable items include everything from contracts and audits to emails and text messages.
A single public information request can contain requests for multiple items. For example, in 2019, the city has received requests for 2,361 separate items, according to city documents.
The new position will cost the city $59,765, according to city documents. The city also voted to hire a new building inspector, which will cost $56,240.
Council Member Christine Sederquist voted against the additions because, she said, she wishes these needed roles had been part of the budget conversations earlier this year. She said she thinks the city should not have been so quick to lower the tax rate if the city is “bursting at the seams” administratively.
The city is also taking steps to standardize its public records request process. The city is asking all records requests be sent to a single mailing address or email address, or through the city’s website. Requests can be delivered in person as well, according to city documents.
The city is also implementing the cost structure allowed by state law for public records requests. The city had not previously been charging what it could for open records requests, but now it will, according to city spokesperson Mike Neu.
“We’re following the standard described in the Texas Public Information Act,” Neu said.
Council Members Jason Shaw and Sederquist voted against these two changes Nov. 7. Shaw and Sederquist suggested open records requests be made available online, since many requests the city has been receiving lately have been for the same items.
“Like my text messages,” Shaw said. “Put them in a file and let everybody see them. They’ve already been requested, and maybe this will eliminate some of these [open records requests] that are just the same thing over and over again.”
To handle the influx in requests, the city has been using an administrative assistant from the Leander Fire Department, Stefanie Brown. Brown said many requests are redundant, though not necessarily from the same person. She said some requests can take a few hours to fulfill, while others can take days.
City Council also unanimously agreed Nov. 7 to amend its Email Server Policy, which it created earlier this year to streamline fulfilling open records requests, to include text archiving software. Now, the archive server will collect text messages of City Council members that contain public information.
Staff in the city secretary’s office can retrieve emails and texts from the server to fulfill requests. Previously, if text messages containing public information were requested, council members retrieved the messages themselves, according to Neu.