You have a right to know. We make it easy.
State laws and local statutes require elected and other public officials to file a variety of records about themselves. The Texas Public Information Act makes these records public. But many are not published and are provided only in response to a public information request.
In keeping with the Bulldog‘s nonprofit mission of serving the public interest, we have filed scores of public information requests with local government agencies to obtain records pertaining to local elected officials and top agency officials.
After obtaining the records, all of which are so far in PDFs, we used optical character recognition software to ensure that they were made searchable. That means when you open the file you can search key words to quickly find the details you’re looking for. You must have Adobe Acrobat Reader to view PDFs. It’s free. You can download it here.
We established the Government Accountability Project (GAP) to provide ready access to these records, free to anyone with an internet connection. When it comes to accountability, we’re filling the gap.
GAP records are searchable by the name of the elected or public official. Or just explore what’s in our library by clicking to open folders for the agency of interest. You may see documents without downloading by clicking on the Preview link. Files selected for downloading will come to your device in a compressed folder (zipped) and can be opened by double-clicking.
Why we publish these records
The specific kinds of records vary from agency to agency, as each has its own regulations and may be governed by different statutes. Broadly speaking, the GAP publishes records that will help you:
• Find out if the officials of governing bodies have timely completed the mandatory training required by the Texas Open Meetings Act and Texas Public Information Act and are informed about how to comply with these laws designed to ensure open government. We aim to hold them accountable, as we did when the Austin City Council broke these laws. Although the Acts require officials to complete this training within 90 days of taking office we found numerous instances in which training had not been taken until after we filed a public information request.
• Identify a public official’s substantial interest in a natural person, entity or property, or the official’s relationship with a vendor on a government contract, that would be affected by the official’s vote or discretionary decision,
• Monitor the public official’s conduct,
• Detect when a public official may have a conflict of interest that has not been publicly disclosed as required, and
• Provide evidence for enforcing accountability by exposing unreported conflicts of interest and filing complaints with appropriate authorities.
Records filling the gap
Affidavits of abstention from voting disclose when a local public official has a substantial interest in a business or in real property and action on the matter would have a special economic effect on the business or real property. If so the official must file, before a vote or decision on any matter involving the business or property, an affidavit stating the nature and extent of the interest, and must abstain from a discussion, vote or decision.
Certificates showing that the official has timely participated in mandatory training courses required by the Texas Open Meetings Act and Texas Public Information Act.
Conflict of interest disclosures that officials must file with respect to a vendor that enters a contract with a local government and has an relationship with a local government officer or a member of the officer’s family.
Personal financial disclosures listing sources of income for the official and the official’s spouse, business interests, boards and executive positions, debts, investments, and real estate interests. It should be noted that:
• Despite the enormous responsibility and powers exercised by governing bodies to approve budgets, award contracts, hire and fire senior executives, and be good stewards of public resources, some local government agencies—most notably the Austin Independent School District and Travis Central Appraisal District—do not require the members of their governing boards to file personal financial disclosures.
• The local government agencies that do demand personal financial disclosures may require they be filed on different forms, at different times, under different circumstances, or require different information.
Personnel files for key executives include dates hired; authorized pay and benefits; perquisites such as allowances for cars and cell phones; promotions; performance ratings; provisions for severence pay, and résumés that provide insight into the executive’s education and previous job experience.
Where are the gaps in our project?
In getting this massive project underway, our initial focus has been to obtain and publish documents that are not otherwise available online. Once these voluminous records have been obtained and published, we may consider adding other types of documents that are already available online but are scattered across multiple government agency websites.
We recognize too the ongoing work that will be required to update the records as needed. This will require careful scheduling to file new public information requests to get and upload documents. We will endeavor to do our best.
We welcome your feedback about the Government Accountability Project. We invite suggestions for other local government records that readers would like to see added.
Send your feedback and suggestions to [email protected].