Council Member Laura Morrison Releases E-mails

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Laura Morrison
Laura Morrison

Council Member Laura Morrison Releases E-mails on City Business from Gmail Account

Morrison Second Council Member to Turn Over More E-mails Responsive to The Austin Bulldog’s Requests

Laura Morrison
Laura Morrison

Late this afternoon the City of Austin’s Public information Office issued a statement by Council Member Laura Morrison along with six e-mails totaling 11 pages.

Morrison is the second council member to break ranks and voluntarily release e-mails requested by The Austin Bulldog under the Texas Public Information Act that were not retained within the city’s communication system. Council Member Bill Spelman yesterday released three e-mails from his University of Texas e-mail account about city business.

She is the first to release e-mails that she created or received from her personal e-mail account.

Morrison’s press release states, “In the interest of transparency, in the few cases when I may have conducted city business with e-mail on my personal account, my policy is to forward the e-mail to my city account. This practice is consistent with the draft policy that was discussed at the March 29 Council Work Session, which I will continue.

“Upon review I have identified five e-mails that I overlooked in forwarding to my city account. I have now made the correction. In addition, I have included one e-mail that I had sent to my city account but overlooked in responding to a previous PIR (public information request).”

The six e-mails Morrison released are as follows:

• March 27, 2010, concerning the Texas Observer’s plea to retain funding for its roughly $20,000 from the City of Austin’s Cultural Arts Funding Program.

• August 5, 2010, about a story on KVUE-TV about city council’s action to make the Formula One track a reality.

• October 15, 2010, concerning the schedule for an Austin Neighborhoods Council meeting.

• November 8, 2010, a summary of the qualifications of four candidates for the position of animal shelter director.

• November 24, 2010, an attempt to coordinate a meeting between Council Members Morrison and Sheryl Cole.

• January 20, 2011, concerning assistance the city might provide to the Austin Independent School District, in connection with AISD’s budget cuts. This e-mail was originated by Susan Moffat, and states, “In what’s probably an excess of caution, I’m sending this to Bill (Spelman) and Laura (Morrison’s) personal e-mail accounts, not the city ones. Laura/Bill, I’ll let you decide how best to get it to Bobby, Barbara, Mark N and other appropriate staff.” (This is the same e-mail that Council Member Spelman released yesterday from his University of Texas e-mail account.)

Background

Morrison’s e-mails released today were provided in response to The Austin Bulldog’s open records requests of January 19 and January 27, 2011, which asked for e-mails the mayor and council members exchanged from January 1, 2010 through January 27, 2011.

The city’s response to those requests included hundreds of e-mails that were captured because they went through city servers. But the city took the position that e-mails created or received on personal computers or cell phones were not collected, assembled or maintained by the city and were therefore not public information.

The Austin Bulldog filed a lawsuit March 1, The Austin Bulldog v. Mayor Lee Leffingwell et al (and amended the pleadings on March 11) to obtain those e-mails about city business created or received on personal computers or cell phones. The lawsuit, which is pending, also asks for a permanent injunction to require the mayor and council members (and their successors in office) and Austin employees from withholding local government records in the future—including those created or received by Austin officials or employees on their personal computers or phones.

The city has until April 4 to file its initial reply to that lawsuit.

As reported March 23, The Austin Bulldog has also filed a civil complaint with County Attorney David Escamilla to request that he use his authority to determine if the City of Austin and its officials have violated the TPIA as alleged in the complaint.

If Escamilla finds that violations have occurred, the complaint asks that he seek a court order requiring the city, council members and staff to comply with the Act.

He has the authority to bring a lawsuit in the name of the State of Texas for declaratory judgment and injunctive relief that is in addition to any other civil, administrative, or criminal action.

Escamilla has to provide a written reply to this civil complaint before April 23.

This report was made possible by contributions to The Austin Bulldog, which operates as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to provide investigative reporting in the public interest. You can help sustain this kind of reporting by making a tax-deductible contribution.

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