After Dallas Voice won a legal battle against the Dallas City Attorney’s Office four years ago, the city is again trying to deny the newspaper access to records related to complaints filed under the city’s sexual orientation nondiscrimination ordinance.
The Baylor-owned Tom Landry Fitness Center’s decision to end family memberships to prevent a gay couple from receiving the discount was highlighted in this week’s Dallas Voice. Before the article was published, we requested to view the case file since Melissa Miles, an assistant city attorney who oversees the complaints, told us the case was closed.
A week before, Beverly Davis, assistant director of the Fair Housing Office, told Dallas Voice the case was still open, but later agreed to let us review the file after the city cleared it for review in three days. But we were not able to view the file before the story was published.
Then the city sent us a letter on Tuesday, informing us they were sending our request to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for a decision on whether we could have access to the file.
We reached out to try and clarify why this was done because in 2008 Dallas Voice hired an attorney to represent us in an effort to have access to the discrimination files, and the attorney general issued an opinion that the city had to allow Dallas Voice to view them.
Assistant City Attorney Michael Bostic confirmed today that the Baylor case is closed, but he said the city is still reviewing whether to release the file.
When asked about the attorney general’s 2008 opinion saying discrimination cases are public record, Bostic initially said he didn’t recall it.
“No one has any recollection,” Bostic said, before requesting that Dallas Voice send a copy of the AG’s opinion to him.
After Dallas Voice agreed to send Bostic a copy of the opinion — which we have since done — he argued that the city is seeking to withhold only the Baylor case file, not all discrimination complaints.
“We are allowed as a city to assert certain exceptions under the Public Information Act to withhold information,” Bostic said. “We’re making an individual determination about this particular open records request, not the release or the public nature of all of our cases as a whole.”
Asked what’s different about the Baylor case from other discrimination cases, Bostic said: “We’re not going to discuss that at this point. That’s something that would be protected by attorney-client privilege.”
As for the perception that the city is merely stonewalling because it doesn’t want to release the file, Bostic said: “I can’t do anything about interpretations.”
Tom Kelley, a spokesman with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, said if Dallas Voice believes they have previously ruled on the requested information, the newspaper should mail them a letter.
Rob Wiley, the attorney who represented Dallas Voice over the issue in 2008, said we have a few options. We can wait for the attorney general to issue another opinion or appeal the letter to the office since the matter was previously decided. We could also take legal action now to have faster access to the file. The attorney general has 45 days to issue an opinion.
“If the belief is that this is frivolous effort on the part of the city to deny you access to records that you’re entitled to now, then I think that you could take legal action in court,” Wiley said. “In a lot of ways it’s kind of disappointing that the city is going through this process again when the outcome, in light of the previous decision, is not really in question.”
Wiley said there’s no good reason for the city to delay access to the records and that the attorney general will likely rule in favor of Dallas Voice.
“I don’t really think there’s a justification for this kind of delay and so you think if there’s not a justification, then what’s the real reason?” he said. “I think instead of cooling off for 45 days, I think the question now becomes, what are they trying to hide? What is it that’s in those files that is somehow so sensitive that they’re trying to delay the process when we all know, because of the prior ruling, what the outcome is going to be?”
Dallas Voice Publisher Robert Moore said it is frustrating to go through the same process as four years ago.
“It is extremely frustrating that we, as a media watchdog, have to go through this process yet again to prove to the City of Dallas that the LGBT citizens of this city have a right to know how the city has handled complaints filed under the Dallas HR Ordinance 46,” Moore said.
“The AG’s office ruled in July 2008 that the city had to turn over the case records for how it handled the LGBT discrimination cases filed up to that point. The principles are the same. The issues are the same. Nothing has changed including the fact that the city continues to stonewall us. I say to the city, ‘Hand them over.’”
Read the attorney general’s 2008 opinion below.