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Brownsville released redacted info on city attorney candidate

September 30, 2018

In its response to a public information request from The Brownsville Herald, the City of Brownsville partially redacted information about a city attorney candidate’s relation to a current city employee. Interim City Manager Michael Lopez released the information to the Herald on Friday and said he would investigate what led to the redaction.

The Herald sent a request to the city on Sept. 19 asking for the applications submitted by four city attorney finalists. The City Secretary’s Office on Thursday emailed the applications. Brownsville attorney and Municipal Judge Rene De Coss answered “yes” in the section that asked if he is related to any city employees or elected officials, but his relative’s name was blacked out.

Pensacola City Attorney Lysia Bowling and Brownsville attorney Gerry Linan answered “no” to the question. Denton City Attorney Aaron Leal also answered “no,” but he has withdrawn his application.

Lopez asked a staffer to print an unredacted copy of De Coss’ response during an interview with the Herald. De Coss said he is related to Planning & Development Services Director Constanza Miner.

Lopez said a Human Resources Department staff member may have believed that De Coss was provided more protections under the Texas Public Information Act because he serves as a municipal judge.

“I explained to our clerical HR, when they sign off on the release, it’s release of everything,” Lopez said. “Their assumption was since he’s a judge … a judge has a little more restriction.”

Section 552.117 of the Texas Public Information Act exempts certain information from public disclosure when it comes to current or former state and federal judges, government employees, peace officers, government attorneys and several other categories. De Coss is a former state district judge and Cameron County district attorney.

Employee information protected by Section 552.117 includes employees’ home address, home telephone number and information that reveals whether they have relatives, according to the statue.

The Texas Public Information Act also outlines the steps a governmental body must take if it decides to withhold information without first seeking an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. The government office must send the requestor a description of the information withheld and provide instruction on how to appeal the decision to the attorney general, according to the act.

Lopez said if it turns out staff are in need of more training on the statue, “they will be properly trained.”

nadia@brownsvilleherald.com

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