Open Records for Texas

Open Records for Texas

Some big changes are coming to Texas beginning September 1st. Many are counting down the days for a new law to kick in that will let Texans monitor their local, county and state governments. It will affect the privacy of elected officials, specifically their e-mails and even private text messages.

These personal text messages, e-mails and other electronic messages from either public or private accounts between elected officials will officially be a part of the public record.

"I think this is very, very good. People will know more and understand more. I think it's a good idea and I am 100% for it" says Charles Arnett of Wichita Falls.

For example, if two school board members text each other during a meeting about how they intend to vote, anyone has the right to request access to those messages. If they're not handed over, it would be a violation of the State Public Information Act.

Local leaders are on board with this new law including Wichita County Judge Woody Gossum who says this will be beneficial because Texomans have the right to know what's going on.

"We are spending Texoman's money on community issues so they should know where their money is going" he said.

Another part of the law will make internet message boards available for city councils, school districts, county commissioners courts and state agencies. These message boards will become available on their websites and is where officials, both elected and appointed can publicly discuss government business away from officially called meetings. Basically, residents can listen in or read what's being discussed and even deliberate with officials.

"I think it's good because the public should be able to see what city officials are talking about as far as emails and all of that too" said Pamala Morris of Wichita Falls.

"They are not the city's employees. They are our employees, the public's employees. So we have a right to understand what their thought process is and how they plan to go about accomplishing the job we hired them to do. It is very appropriate that we have full access to that information" said Wichita Falls resident Greg Davis.

Many Texomans also believe the disclosure of information will help encourage more community involvement, pave the way to a better Texas and create an example for other states to follow.

"This is an extremely positive note for the State of Texas. And the same thing should happen with the federal government too" said Davis.

Also a part of this new law, when governments outsource government services to outside vendors, communications with those vendors will become public too. Officials want to emphasize the importance of transparency and the key part it will play in this new law.

Judge Gossum says this law will work as long as issues that are being discussed have clarity.

"The last thing we want is misunderstanding and misinterpretation on different issues between the elected officials and people of the community" he said.

Texas is the first state in the country to create this new way of monitoring the work and decisions of government officials. The idea for this first-in-the-nation message board came from Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson of Austin.

Cynthia Kobayashi, Newschannel Six.