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

The “Click It or Ticket” enforcement period across Texas roads will start on May 24. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
TxDOT will launch annual ‘Click It or Ticket’ campaign Monday, May 24

The campaign comes after a 2020 that saw a 16% increase in deaths of unbuckled motorists.

Public schools cannot require students, teachers, parents and other staff members or visitors to wear masks after June 4, Gov. Greg Abbott declared in an executive order issued May 18. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Public schools can't require students, staff to wear masks after June 4, Gov. Abbott says

"Texans, not government, should decide their best health practices, which is why masks will not be mandated by public school districts or government entities," Gov. Greg Abbott said.

See how Leander and Cedar Park real estate fared in April. (Ali Linan/Community Impact Newspaper)
Median price of a Leander-Cedar Park home surpasses $500K

See how Leander and Cedar Park real estate fared in April.

Photo of the Austin skyline from Zilker Park
Austin-Travis County moves down to Stage 2 coronavirus risk, relaxes mask recommendations for vaccinated individuals

Fully vaccinated residents of Travis County now have the option to forego a mask in most circumstances.

Leander ISD administrative building
Leander ISD weighs future bond considering $1.5 billion in projects

To meet student growth, the school district is considering a November bond election for construction, technology, renovation and capital projects.

Photo of shoppers eyeing a table of books
Texas Book Festival announces in-person and online events this fall

The annual festival will have a hybrid model this year after going virtual in 2020.

Raising Cane's sells chicken fingers, chicken sandwiches, crinkle-cut fries, Texas toast and more. (Courtesy Raising Cane's)
Raising Cane's to open 2nd Cedar Park restaurant; Tacodeli coming to Circle C and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Here is what you need to know today about COVID-19 in Williamson County. (Community Impact staff)
Positivity rate drops to 3% in Williamson County, plus more COVID-19 news

Here are the most recent coronavirus updates from Williamson County.

Effective June 26, unemployed Texans will no longer be eligible to receive the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Gov. Greg Abbott announces end-date for Texans to receive federal pandemic-related unemployment benefits

Effective June 26, unemployed Texans will no longer be eligible to receive the $300 weekly unemployment supplement from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program.

Photo of an H-E-B store
H-E-B makes curbside services free

Previously, curbside shoppers were charged a $4.95 fee on all orders, but moving forward that fee will be waived on purchases of $35 or more. Orders worth less than $35 will have a $2.95 "small basket surcharge" attached.

raising cane's chicken
Raising Cane's opening second Cedar Park location in June

The second Cedar Park location is opening near Lakeline Mall.