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December 20, 2000

Mr. Jerry Bruce Cain
Assistant City Attorney
City of Laredo
P.O. Box 579
Laredo, Texas 78042-0579

OR2000-4796

Dear Mr. Cain:

You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under the Public Information Act (the "Act"), chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 142630.

The City of Laredo (the "city") received a request for information concerning certain personnel records of the Laredo Fire Department (the "fire department"). You claim that the requested information is excepted from disclosure under sections 552.101 and 552.102 of the Government Code. We have considered the exceptions you claim and reviewed the submitted information.

Section 552.101 excepts from disclosure "information considered to be confidential by law, either constitutional, statutory, or by judicial decision." This section encompasses information protected by statute. You represent that the submitted information is part of the fire department's personnel files that are created and maintained pursuant to section 143.089(g) of the Local Government Code. Section 143.089(g) reads as follows:

A fire or police department may maintain a personnel file on a fire fighter or police officer employed by the department for the department's use, but the department may not release any information contained in the department file to any agency or person requesting information relating to a fire fighter or police officer. The department shall refer to the director [of the civil-service commission] or the director's designee a person or agency that requests information that is maintained in the fire fighter's or police officer's personnel file.

Subsection (g) authorizes city police and fire departments to maintain for their own use a file on a police officer or fire fighter that is separate from the file maintained by the city civil service commission. "The department may not release any information contained in the department file to any agency or person," but instead "the department shall refer to the director [of the civil-service commission] or the director's designee a person or agency that requests information that is maintained in the fire fighter's or police officer's personnel file." Local Gov't Code 143.089(g); see City of San Antonio v. Texas Attorney General, 851 S.W.2d 946, 952 (Tex. App.--Austin 1993, writ denied).

The court in City of San Antonio addressed the availability of information that is contained in a city police department's internal file pursuant to section 143.089(g). The court determined that section 143.089(g) makes confidential any records kept in a department's internal file. City of San Antonio, 851 S.W.2d at 946 (in construing section 143.089 the court found general legislative policy that allegations of misconduct against police officers and fire fighters should not be subject to compelled disclosure unless they have been substantiated and resulted in disciplinary action). Having reviewed the submitted information, we agree that you must withhold the submitted information under section 552.101 in conjunction with section 143.089(g) of the Local Government Code. Because section 552.101 is dispositive, we need not address your other claimed exception.

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 Department of Public Safety v. Gilbreath, 842 S.W.2d 408,411 (Tex. App.--Austin 1992, no writ).

Please remember that under the Act the release of information triggers certain procedures for costs and charges to the requestor. If records are released in compliance with this ruling, be sure that all charges for the information are at or below the legal amounts. Questions or complaints about over-charging must be directed to Hadassah Schloss at the General Services Commission at 512/475-2497.

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,

Stephen P. Agan
Assistant Attorney General
Open Records Division

SPA/seg

Ref: ID# 142630

Encl. Submitted documents

cc: Ms. Meg Guerra
LareDOS
Fax: (210) 791-4737
(w/o enclosures)


 

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