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Wednesday, July 19, 2000

CORNYN ANNOUNCES CREATION OF NEW POSITION TO PROMOTE OPEN GOVERNMENT

Rebecca Payne Named Special Assistant for Open Government

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn announced the appointment of Rebecca Payne as Special Assistant to the Attorney General for Open Government. Payne, previously the open records division chief, will focus on open records decisions and work actively to help educate governmental bodies throughout Texas on their obligations under the Open Records Act. Katherine Minter Cary, the agency's public information coordinator, will serve as interim chief of the open government division.

"One of my top priorities as Attorney General is to promote open government. This administration is making great strides in enforcing the Public Information Act, and I believe the appointment of Rebecca Payne to this new position will aid in continuing that progress," said Attorney General Cornyn.

Since January 2000, the open records division has issued, on average, 43 percent of its rulings within 20 days; compared to 4 percent within 20 days by the previous administration in 1998. In addition, the division is averaging 422 rulings per month this year, compared to 320 per month last year and 279 per month in 1998.

During Attorney General Cornyn's administration, the agency initiated joint regional conferences with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and the Texas Association of Regional Councils. The agency also established a toll-free number for the statewide open government hotline service. The toll-free hotline has averaged 1055 calls per month since January 2000, approximately twice as many as in 1998.

A provision in Senate Bill 1851 authorizes the Office of the Attorney General to issue open records decisions in the absence of a request for a ruling from a governmental body. Such decisions may be used as "prior determinations" of the law, thereby decreasing governmental bodies' need to request open records rulings. Payne will also play an active role in issuing these decisions.

Payne joined the Office of the Attorney General in 1992 as a member of the opinion committee, where she served as chief of the committee's open government section from 1993 to 1995. In January 1999, she was appointed open records division chief.

Before joining the Office of the Attorney General, she served nine years with the Secretary of State as the agency's expert on campaign finance and public ethics laws. In addition, Payne was an Adjunct Professor at both the University of Texas School of Law and St. Edward's University. Payne obtained her J.D. from the U.T. School of Law in 1982 and a B.A. with highest honors from U.T. Austin in 1977.

Cary is board certified in administrative law and has worked at the General Land Office, the Texas Lottery Commission and the Office of the Attorney General. Her areas of practice have included open records, open meetings, employment law, enforcement and general administrative agency practice. Cary obtained her J.D. from St. Mary's University in 1990 and her B. A. in Political Science from Texas A&M University in 1987.

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