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April 6, 2000

Ms. Tenley A. Aldredge
Assistant County Attorney
County of Travis
P.O. Box 1748
Austin, Texas 78767

OR2000-1341

Dear Ms. Aldredge:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Texas Government Code. Your request was assigned ID#133804.

The Travis County Transportation and Natural Resources Department (the "department") received a request for documents regarding the relationship between the Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan (the "BCCP") and several real estate development projects. You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.105 and 552.107 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and have reviewed the submitted information.

You explain that the BCCP provides for the protection of endangered species and natural resources by, among other means, the acquisition of sensitive real properties through the imposition of conservation easements, donation, or outright purchase. The requestor seeks disclosure of documents regarding four parcels of real estate located in Travis County ranging in size from approximately 18.5 acres to over 4,600 acres. Specifically, the requestor asks for all documents, in any form, pertaining to the BCCP's relationship with these parcels. You assert that you have released the majority of the requested documents, but wish to withhold the records you have submitted for our review.

Section 552.105 excepts from disclosure information relating to:

(1) the location of real or personal property for a public purpose prior to public announcement of the project; or

(2) appraisals or purchase price of real or personal property for a public purpose prior to the formal award of contracts for the property.

Gov't Code 552.105. Section 552.105 is designed to protect a governmental body's planning and negotiating position with regard to particular transactions. Open Records Decision Nos. 564 (1990), 357 (1982), 222 (1979). Information excepted under section 552.105 that pertains to such negotiations may be excepted so long as the transaction is not complete. Open Records Decision Nos. 310 (1982), 265 (1981). Because this exception extends to "information relating to" the location, appraisals, and purchase price of property, it may protect more than a specific appraisal report prepared for a specific piece of property. ORD 564 at 2. For example, we have concluded that appraisal information about parcels of land acquired in advance of others to be acquired for the same project could be withheld where this information would harm the governmental body's negotiating position with respect to the remaining parcels. Id. We have also held that section 552.105 applies to leases as well as purchases of real estate. Open Records Decision No. 348 (982). A governmental body may withhold information "which, if released, would impair or tend to impair [its] 'planning and negotiating position in regard to particular transactions.'" ORD 357 at 3 (quoting ORD 222). When a governmental body has made a good faith determination that the release of information would damage its negotiating position with respect to a real estate transaction, the attorney general will accept that determination unless the records or other information show the contrary as a matter of law. ORD 564.

After examining your arguments and the information you have submitted, we find that section 552.105 is applicable in this instance. You may withhold the submitted information under section 552.105. Because we have resolved your request under section 552.105, we need not consider your arguments under section 552.107.

This letter ruling is limited to the particular records at issue in this request and limited to the facts as presented to us; therefore, this ruling must not be relied upon as a previous determination regarding any other records or any other circumstances.

This ruling triggers important deadlines regarding the rights and responsibilities of the governmental body and of the requestor. For example, governmental bodies are prohibited from asking the attorney general to reconsider this ruling. Gov't Code 552.301(f). If the governmental body wants to challenge this ruling, the governmental body must appeal by filing suit in Travis County within 30 calendar days. Id. 552.324(b). In order to get the full benefit of such an appeal, the governmental body must file suit within 10 calendar days. Id. 552.353(b)(3), (c). If the governmental body does not appeal this ruling and the governmental body does not comply with it, then both the requestor and the attorney general have the right to file suit against the governmental body to enforce this ruling. Id. 552.321(a).

If this ruling requires the governmental body to release all or part of the requested information, the governmental body is responsible for taking the next step. Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, within 10 calendar days of this ruling, the governmental body will do one of the following three things: 1) release the public records; 2) notify the requestor of the exact day, time, and place that copies of the records will be provided or that the records can be inspected; or 3) notify the requestor of the governmental body's intent to challenge this letter ruling in court. If the governmental body fails to do one of these three things within 10 calendar days of this ruling, then the requestor should report that failure to the attorney general's Open Government Hotline, toll free, at 877/673-6839. The requestor may also file a complaint with the district or county attorney. Id. 552.3215(e).

If this ruling requires or permits the governmental body to withhold all or some of the requested information, the requestor can appeal that decision by suing the governmental body. Id. 552.321(a); Texas Dep't of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408, 411 (Tex. App.-Austin 1992, no writ).

If the governmental body, the requestor, or any other person has questions or comments about this ruling, they may contact our office. Although there is no statutory deadline for contacting us, the attorney general prefers to receive any comments within 10 calendar days of the date of this ruling.

Sincerely,

June B. Harden
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

JBH/CHS/ljp

Ref: ID# 133804

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Mr. Fields Alexander
Brown McCarroll & Oaks Hartline, L.L.P.
111 Congress Avenue, Suite 1400
Austin, Texas 78701-4043
(w/o enclosures)


 

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