City won't release Code Compliance documents because...?

At Dallas City Hall, Cover Your Ass is more than a mantra, it's a way of life. If there is something they don't you to see, it just won't get released.

In 2000, the City would not release the name of the City Council member who asked for legal opinions on how to shut down activist websites like BarkingDogs, Dallas.org and DallasArena. Turned out to be none other than Mary Poss, no surprise there.

They stonewalled Dallas.org when he asked for credit card records, but eventually those files were released.

But BD has to admit he was just a little surprised to find a letter from the City Attorney telling him they would not release the results of a Code Compliance survey of Lower Greenville businesses and their questionable Certificates of Occupancy. And to make sure BD never sees the reports, they are asking the Attorney General to make it official.

Back in March, BD and others were doing their own brand of due diligence on Lower Greenville, reviewing every single Certificate of Occupancy for every bar, scumbar and restaurant (or reasonable facsimile thereof). Our research found that several businesses had questionable CO's, and we asked the City to start a review based on our research.

Amazingly, Code Compliance officers visited - we are told - every single business on our list - plus others we thought were kosher - and found that many of our claims were correct. BD asked - and asked - and asked - for a copy of the City's report, but kept getting stalled.

Finally, BD filed an Open Records Request for all the documents, along with copies of our emails asking for the reports, and the City's replies that they were in process.

Instead of giving us the reports, the City Attorney filed a letter with the Attorney General, asking that the reports be protected from disclosure under various sections of the Public Information Act.

They cited three sections of the Act -

Citations from Public Information Act referred to in their cover letter

Sec. 552.103. EXCEPTION: LITIGATION OR SETTLEMENT NEGOTIATIONS INVOLVING THE STATE OR A POLITICAL SUBDIVISION.

(a) Information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if it is information relating to litigation of a civil or criminal nature to which the state or a political subdivision is or may be a party or to which an officer or employee of the state or a political subdivision, as a consequence of the person’s office or employment, is or may be a party.

(b) For purposes of this section, the state or a political subdivision is considered to be a party to litigation of a criminal nature until the applicable statute of limitations has expired or until the defendant has exhausted all appellate and postconviction remedies in state and federal court.

(c) Information relating to litigation involving a governmental body or an officer or employee of a governmental body is excepted from disclosure under Subsection (a) only if the litigation is pending or reasonably anticipated on the date that the requestor applies to the officer for public information for access to or duplication of the information.

Sec. 552.107. EXCEPTION: CERTAIN LEGAL MATTERS.

Information is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021 if:

(1) it is information that the attorney general or an attorney of a political subdivision is prohibited from disclosing because of a duty to the client under the Texas Rules of Evidence or the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct; or

(2) a court by order has prohibited disclosure of the information.

Sec. 552.111. EXCEPTION: AGENCY MEMORANDA.

An interagency or intraagency memorandum or letter that would not be available by law to a party in litigation with the agency is excepted from the requirements of Section 552.021.

In plain English (we think), the City is claiming that the reports are actual evidence in legal cases against these businesses and cannot be released until the cases, if any, are settled (read the City's letters - click here).

But since the City has already whitewashed the questionable Certificates of Occupancy and made them all magically kosher, where are the so-called legal cases?

The Texas Attorney General has 45 working days to reply to the request.

We can't wait.

By Avi S. Adelman under Neighborhoods , Dallas City Hall