Page 11


Dan Morales and State Secrets is THERE “ANY IRONY,” Travis II County District Court Judge John Dietz asked Assistant Attorney General Julie Joe, “that the Attorney General, chief enforcement officer for [open records], says that these records aren’t public?” It had to be a difficult question for Joe. Attorney General Dan Morales is her boss. He is charged with enforcing the Texas Open Records Act. And when she showed up in court to defend him in a lawsuit filed by the Texas Center for Policy Studies, she brought with her a box of state documents so heavily redacted that they didn’t even begin to suggest what sort of secrets Dan Morales is keeping these days. “Yes, sir, I do,” Joe said. Which was a fairly brave answer. Or maybe it wasn’t. Because the Democratic Attorney General has a less than admirable record as far as access to public information goes. Last October, Morales turned over several boxes full of documents to Scott McCollough, a 10-year veteran in utilities litigation in the Consumer Protection Division of the AGs office who had been fired by Morales lieutenant Jorge Vega. But, as Texas Lawyer reporter Robert Elder reported, “Morales released the files to McCollough three days after he filed suit but eight months after the former consumer division litigator made his request” under the Open Records Act. And then there was Morales’ stonewalling the Texas Lawyer, apparently because he was unhappy with its coverage of his office. Reporters for the Lawyer were reduced to filing open records requests for routine press releases. But the Open Records fights with the fired assistant AG and the Lawyer seem insignificant compared to the defense Morales tendered against the Texas Center for Policy Studies, a public interest environmental think tank based in Austin. The material requested by the Center includes detailed analysis of a major piece of legislation, which has policy and fiscal implications that could affect taxpayers, property owners, and industry and environmental regulators for years to come. What Center director Mary Kelly requested was that Morales release his office’s study of the legal and fiscal consequences of Senate Bill 14, sponsored in the Senate by Amarillo Republican Teel Bivins and in the House by Travis County Republican Susan Combs. Bivins and Combs are carrying a “takings” bill, backed and probably drafted by agricultural interests and developers. If passed, the bill could require the state to reimburse any property owner for any loss of property value caused by laws passed or rules pro Attorney General Dan Morales mulgated by state or local governments. So Kelly’s Open Records request seemed reasonable. Employees of a state agency, using taxpayer money, had conducted an investigation of the potential consequences of a bill being deliberated in the state legislature. Kelly is a taxpayer and environmental policy analyst and she wanted the information. Morales said no. One of his top assistant attorneys general, Drew Durham, had testified before a legislative committee holding hearings on the takings bill and said the state would incur no substantial costs if the bill were enacted. That, the AG held, was sufficient. But Drew Durham has a public record of his own on environmental issues. The former West Texas county attorney got the attention of environmentalists last year when he showed up at a property rights rally in Georgetown, north of Austin, and said: “There’s no endangered species in Sterling County [where he was county attorney before Morales hired him] because…we killed them all. I’m the chief executioner. And I don’t think that speaks very well for the warbler.” ORALES ALSO HAS established his own public record on the Endan gered Species Act and on takings. “Attor ney General Dan Morales’ embrace of the property rights movement continues to at tract trouble for his office,” Elder wrote in PATRICIA MOORE the Texas Lawyer on May 15. An argument can be made that Morales has done more than embrace the movement; he seems to have climbed into bed with some of these guys. Not only did the Attorney General file suit against the federal government over its attempt to protect the habitat of the golden-cheeked warbler in Central Texas \(TO, nated by property-rights advocates like Take Back Texas’ Marsahll Kuykendall \(who got the public’s attention when he `suggested the emancipation of the slaves was a taking for which slaveholders should publican Ag Commissioner Rick Perry in a concerted attack on the Endangered Species Act. So Kelly wanted to know how the AG’s office had reached its conclusions. “They didn’t have to release [the records] before the vote but the point is now, wait a minute, what was the AG doing saying it didn’t cost anything if the analyses say it could cost millions of dollars,” she said after Representative John Hirschi cited, in House debate, figures from the AG’s documents. Hirschi, a Wichita Falls Democrat, had obtained copies of the paperwork by filing his own Open Records request. “I think the question now becomes, were they honest in the implications of the bill?” Kelly said. When Elder, the agile reporter for the Continued on p.11 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5