Office of the ATTORNEY GENERAL
December 3, 2002
Mr. Gordon Bowman
Dear Mr. Bowman:
You ask whether certain information is subject to required public disclosure under chapter 552 of the Government Code. Your request was assigned ID# 173015.
The County of Travis (the "county") received a request for a copy of the Southwestern Bell/Global response to a specified request for proposals by the county. You state that you will provide the requestor with a majority of the responsive information. However, you claim that a portion of the responsive information is excepted from disclosure under section 552.104 of the Government Code. Additionally, you state that this information may implicate the proprietary interests of Southwestern Bell Telephone ("SBC"), an interested third party. You have notified SBC of the request for information pursuant to section 552.305 of the Government Code. See Gov't Code § 552.305 (permitting interested third party to submit to attorney general reasons why requested information should not be released); Open Records Decision No. 542 (1990) (determining that statutory predecessor to Gov't Code § 552.305 permits governmental body to rely on interested third party to raise and explain applicability of exception in Public Information Act in certain circumstances). We have considered your arguments and reviewed the submitted representative sample of information.(1)
Section 552.104 of the Government Code excepts from disclosure "information that, if released, would give advantage to a competitor or bidder." The purpose of section 552.104 is to protect a governmental body's interests in competitive bidding situations. See Open Records Decision No. 592 (1991). Moreover, section 552.104 requires a showing of some actual or specific harm in a particular competitive situation; a general allegation that a competitor will gain an unfair advantage will not suffice. See Open Records Decision No. 541 at 4 (1990). Section 552.104 does not except information relating to competitive bidding situations once a contract has been awarded. See Open Records Decision Nos. 306 (1982), 184 (1978).
You state that the Travis County Purchasing Office has not yet completed the contract negotiation process and that the proposal is currently being negotiated and a contract is being prepared. You also assert that "disclosing the contents of the received proposal at this time to the requestor, might well compromise the negotiation and evaluation process by giving advantage to the competitive position of other proposers" and that "the process will be harmed by release of the requested records at this time." Upon review of the county's arguments and the submitted information, we conclude that you have demonstrated that public release of the information at issue would cause specific harm to the county's interests in a particular competitive bidding situation. Accordingly, the county has adequately demonstrated the applicability of section 552.104 to the submitted information. Therefore, the county may withhold the submitted information from required public disclosure under section 552.104 of the Government Code until such time as the contract is awarded.
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 Texas Building and Procurement 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. We note that a third party may challenge this ruling by filing suit seeking to withhold information from a requestor. Gov't Code § 552.325. 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.
W. Montgomery Meitler
c: Mr. Doug Simpson
Mr. Dennis Nobrega
1. We assume that the "representative sample" of records submitted to this office is truly representative of the requested records as a whole. See Open Records Decision Nos. 499 (1988), 497 (1988). Here, we do not address any other requested records to the extent that those records contain substantially different types of information than that submitted to this office.
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