The QueQue: Adkisson blames 'Express' for open records skirmish; Case of Bexar County's missing cocaine
Published: April 11, 2012
Adkisson blames Express for open records skirmish
"I'm not inclined to be stepped on or stomped," Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson said this week, discussing his effort to keep emails from a private account in which he discusses official county business hidden. The now two-year court battle precipitated by his refusal to turn over the emails in response to a 2010 Express-News request by reporter Josh Baugh represents a "conflict between private rights and public rights," as well as his personal beef with the Express-News. As expressed in news stories, columns, and editorials, the paper hopes to shed light on dealings between Commissioner Adkisson, who is chairman of the San Antonio-Bexar County Metropolitan Planning Organization, and toll-road critic Terri Hall. The request seeks messages related to public business that Adkisson sent over two personal email accounts. Adkisson sued Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2010 after the AG ordered him to fork over the emails.
Adkisson says he initially bit back out of distaste for the E-N's approach. The paper, he charged, had taken the position of the "power elite in the community" by pushing for toll road development in articles and editorials, something he's opposed while in office. "This request was to intimidate, coerce, and slice-and-dice me for not getting in line. … I felt like it was a vendetta," Adkisson said this week. But the spat has spiraled into a legal challenge that could bolster or weaken the state's open records laws moving forward. Adkisson insists "the black letter of the law is behind me," saying the government doesn't have the right to access his personal emails. Hearst, the AG's office, and other open-government advocates have argued otherwise, saying the origin of a public official's emails is irrelevant — private or public server, makes no matter: it's the content that dictates whether something is public and therefore open to public scrutiny. The problem with Adkisson's interpretation, says Keith Elkins with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, is that it leaves open the door for public officials to easily evade disclosure of any communication they want to hide from public view. Wary officials could move business emails over to private accounts and servers any time they wanted to hide from the scrutiny the Texas Public Information Act ensures. "This is simply an unnecessary threat to a public service that is tantamount to accountability," Elkins said. "If Commissioner Adkisson were to prevail, what is to keep any government official from simply walking into the office, signing into their own private Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail account and conducting business. … When reporters or the public go through the effort to hold them accountable, all they have to do is say, 'You don't have access to my private account.'"