Influx in open records requests spurs Leander to hire new position, update processes

Leander is amending its Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget to hire a new deputy city secretary to assist with open records requests. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Leander is amending its Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget to hire a new deputy city secretary to assist with open records requests. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

Leander is amending its Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget to hire a new deputy city secretary to assist with open records requests. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

The number of open records requests the city of Leander has received increased by 45% from 2017 to 2018, according to city documents. The number received this year—569—has already exceeded the number received last year, 484.

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.
By Marisa Charpentier

Reporter, Cedar Park | Leander

Marisa Charpentier joined Community Impact in September 2018. After working as an intern, she became a reporter for the Cedar Park | Leander edition in October 2018. Charpentier graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with degrees in journalism and Plan II Honors.



MOST RECENT

A sign directs voters inside Ridgetop Elementary School in North Central Austin. (Jack Flagler/Community Impact Newspaper)
11.8% of voters in Travis County have voted early since June 29, exceeding 2018 primary numbers

More than 97,000 Travis County residents have voted in person or by mail. The turnout far surpassed the combined early and Election Day totals in the 2018 primary run-off election.

A photo of the potential Tesla property
Travis County updates Tesla incentive package, pushing for $1 billion-plus investment from the company

Poised for a possible July 13 vote, Travis County has released a refined incentives structure proposal with electric carmaker Tesla.

The Williamson County and Cities Health District confirmed 37 additional coronavirus cases July 10, bringing the total to 3,654. (Community Impact Staff)
37 new cases of coronavirus, 1 death confirmed in Williamson County on July 10

Currently, 103 patients are hospitalized, 32 are in intensive care and 16 are on a ventilator.

The species that tested positive for West Nile Virus is Culex quinquefasciatus, or the southern house mosquito. This species has a flight range of about one mile. ​(Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Mosquitoes test positive for West Nile Virus near southwest Williamson County Regional Park

There have been no reported human cases of West Nile Virus in Williamson County since 2017.

Williamson County sees 844 new coronavirus cases this week

Between July 4 and July 10, Williamson County also reported 9 additional deaths.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced in a June 30 State Board of Education meeting that students will be taking the STAAR in the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Pixabay)
Education organizations call for STAAR requirements to be waived another year

Gov. Greg Abbott waived the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, testing requirements in March of earlier this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

With a clinical background in internal, pulmonary and critical care medicine, Corry has been with BCM for 20 years. He now focuses primarily on inflammatory lung diseases, such as asthma and smoking-related chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. (Graphic by Ronald Winters/Community Impact Newspaper)
Q&A: Baylor College of Medicine's Dr. David Corry discusses immunity, vaccine production amid COVID-19 pandemic

Rapid development and distribution of a vaccine worldwide and successful achievement of herd immunity will be key players in determining the lifespan of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Dr. David Corry, a professor of Medicine in the Immunology, Allergy and Rheumatology Section at Baylor College of Medicine.

The new partnership will provide on-site, same-day testing and results for assisted-living facility staff and their residents. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
State announces partnership for increased COVID-19 testing for patients, staff at assisted-living facilities, nursing homes

These test sites will help the state work toward the goal of processing up to 100,000 tests in the first month.

money
DATA: Leander sales tax revenue jumped 40% in May; Cedar Park stayed steady

Leander sales tax revenue spiked 40% in May 2020 compared to May 2019 data.

cedar-park-city-council-meeting
Cedar Park OKs $61.5M in 3 ordinances for bonds, certificates of obligation

The bonds and certificates of obligation will fund the planned library, parks, street improvements, drainage projects and the Brushy Creek wastewater plant expansion.

Former Cedar Park Police Department Chief Sean Mannix is pictured in this 2015 file photo. (Community Impact Newspaper file photo)
Cedar Park police chief moves to Burnet, driver's license offices reopen: Most popular news this week from Central Texas

Read the most popular Central Texas news from the past week on Community Impact Newspaper's website.