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Texas Watchdog letter to Attorney General regarding Houston Airport System salary data

Texas Watchdog letter to Attorney General regarding Houston Airport System salary data

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Published by jpeebles
Letter from Texas Watchdog's Jennifer Peebles to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, arguing that the Houston Airport System should not be allowed to withhold salary data for airport employees on homeland security grounds.
Letter from Texas Watchdog's Jennifer Peebles to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, arguing that the Houston Airport System should not be allowed to withhold salary data for airport employees on homeland security grounds.

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Published by: jpeebles on Jul 28, 2009
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07/27/2009

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Jennifer L. PeeblesTexas Watchdog5535 Memorial DriveSuite F, No. 601Houston, TX 77007June 23, 2009Office of the Texas Attorney GeneralOpen Records DivisionP.O. Box 12548Austin, Texas 78711-2548
 Re: AG ID#351739, Texas Public Information Act request dated May 26, 2009 from Jennifer Peebles for information pertaining to the Houston Airport System and the Houston Airport System Development Corporation.
 Dear General Abbott:I am writing you today to ask that you require the Houston Airport System (HAS) tomake public all the records to which I have requested access under the Texas PublicInformation Act.
I. List of employees of the Houston Airport System and their 2008 pay dataA. The airport system objects to the release of airport employee names, not theirpay data.
I am a journalist for an online newspaper in Houston. In an interview I conducted lastweek (a printout of my story is enclosed as EXHIBIT A), Houston Assistant CityAttorney Evelyn Njuguna said that the city does not object to the release of the salaryinformation I had requested. It does, however, object to the release of the names of theairport workers that would accompany the requested salary data:
The airport system’s concern isn’t so much releasing the salary numbers, Njugunasaid in a telephone interview Tuesday. “It’s not the amount that they make, it’smore so the names of the people,” she said. “Because TSA has said giving out information about employees who work in the airport or who have access tosecured locations could” put airports at risk.
 
 
The airport and the city would be willing to release a list of numbers of how muchthe workers are paid, she said — but Texas Watchdog countered that a list of dollar amounts without names attached to them would be of little use to the public.
 
B. The airport system has already published the names and job titles of at least 98 of its workers on the airport system's own Web site.
The Houston city attorney wants the attorney general's office to believe that the Houstonairports and their travelers could be vulnerable to a terrorist attack if the city were torelease the names of the people who work at the airports.If that's true, then the Houston Airport System is -- at this very moment -- aiding andabetting terrorists.That's because the Airport System has made the names and job descriptions of at least 98Airport System employees -- from the man in the front office to maintenance workers forthe airports' buildings and automobile fleets -- publicly available on the Houston AirportSystem's own Web site.A random sampling of the people whom the airport system mentions by name in its ownpromotional materials on its Web site:
 
Manual Martinez and Charlie Herrera, who are airport system physical plantmaintenance employees;
 
Roshonda Passmore, an HAS airport security officer;
 
T.J. Jennings, who helps maintain the motor vehicle fleet for HAS;
 
Willie Bingaman, director of cargo operations for HAS;
 
Dawn Hoffman, airport operations supervisor for Hobby Airport;
 
and Brian Rinehart, manager of Ellington Airport for HAS.In all, the number of employee names I found on the airport system's Web site totalled98. I am including a complete list of those names with this letter as EXHIBIT B,complete with Web addresses, so that the attorney general's office may verify my claim. Iam enclosing with this letter printouts of 10 of the Web pages in question as they appearas of this moment, on June 22, 2009. These are marked EXHIBIT C.Just to be clear: I didn't obtain these airport system employees' names by hacking intosome password-protected area of the airport's Web site. I didn't bribe anyone with specialsecurity clearance to retrieve these names. No, these airport employees' names and jobdescriptions -- and in some cases, even their photographs -- are all sitting right there onthe airport system's public Web site in the Houston Airport System's monthly newsletters,which are written and compiled by the airport system's own communications and publicrelations staffers. These public-relations-type materials were produced by the AirportSystem, with public funds, for the benefit of the public.
 
 Also, the names, photographs and short biographies of nearly a dozen of the AirportSystem's very top officials are on a special page of their own on the Airport System'sWeb site. Indeed, the name and photograph of the man who was the head of the HoustonAirport System in 2008, Richard M. Vacar, appears so many times on the airports' Website that I lost count.In short, the Houston Airport System wants the public -- indeed the world, and anyone,anywhere with Internet access -- to be able to access the names of these employees whohave access to the restricted areas of Houston's airports. It willingly published thisinformation and made it available to you, me and Osama bin Laden himself (assuming hehas Internet access).The city of Houston and the Houston Airport System cannot on one hand publicize thenames and job descriptions of 98 of its own employees and then, on the other hand, claimthat releasing employees' names would somehow make the airport system vulnerable.This defies common sense. If the airport's argument is to be believed, then the leadershipof the Houston Airport System is compromising their own airports' security.Aside from defying common sense, it also violates Texas law.State law prohibits selective disclosure of public records. If a government body releasesthe information to one person, it must release that information to others who request it.In Open Records Decision No. 400, penned in 1982, then-Texas Attorney General JimMattox said that the city of Dallas had to grant a Dallas resident access to requestedinformation because the city had previously made that information public to other people:
We conclude that when [the city of Dallas] permitted members of the public to examinethis report, [it] waived any claim that [it] might have had [to withhold the information]... Once such voluntary disclosure has occurred, as it has in this instance, the informationin question "shall then be available to any person."
 The Houston Airport System has already released the identities of its employees on itsown Web site. In doing so, it has waived its right to claim that this information can bekept confidential. The horse is already out of the barn, so to speak.In a similar vein, Mattox wrote in attorney general's opinion JM-590, written in 1986,that no one who requests records has any more right to access than any other requestor. Inother words, everyone who requests records is equal in the eyes of the law. Under thisprinciple, the Houston Airport System cannot turn down my request for access to recordswhen it is making these same records public to everyone else in the entire world who hasInternet access. Doing so would put me in a special class, by myself, with less rights toaccess to that information than anyone else.
B. The Houston Airport System has failed to prevent its employees from voluntarilydisclosing the requested information via the Internet.

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