UT Tyler Students Survey FOI Compliance - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

6/24/2007-East Texas

UT Tyler Students Survey FOI Compliance

When it comes to freedom of information there are certain guidelines every government agency must follow.  A group of University of Texas at Tyler Journalism students surveyed several East Texas agencies to make sure your rights are being met.

For five years, UT Tyler has used its journalism students to study the Texas Public Information Act.

"Being able to see what our government is doing, what our elected officials are doing, how they make decisions that affect our everyday lives is what it's all about," said Journalism Lecturer Vanessa Curry.  "How they are spending our tax dollars?".  In 2006, the students surveyed more than 100 East Texas agencies to see if they complied in three areas.  First, did the entity have the required public information notice posted according to the law?  Second, was the researcher questioned about his or her her request for public information.  Third, was the researcher given access to the requested public information as prescribed by law? 

Researchers found 46 percent complied with the act.  This number is up from 29 percent in 2004.  The survey did include something new this year: government training, which took effect in January.

"Someone in the entities, all elected or appointed officials are required to have that training at some point," said Curry.  "Someone has to be educated and can prove that with their certificate."  Researchers found two-thirds of the agencies did employ someone with the training.  However, there is a problem.

"The information is not always trickling down to the person who is meeting with the public," said Curry.  The survey found the worst offenders to be Frankston and the Upshur County Sheriff's Department.  The city of Tyler and Tyler Police Department scored nearly 100 percent.

"What we do, we make sure the department leaders know that," said City of Tyler Communications Director Laura Krantz.  "We reinforce the culture that they make sure that their front line office staff knows that.  When we get a request, we do so immediately," said Krantz.  It's something UT Tyler says they hope the survey will encourage all East Texas agencies to do.

Experts say it is too early to tell whether the required government training will affect the overall compliance.  The 2006 government compliance survey is part of an ongoing educational project.

Danielle Capper, Reporting. dcapper@kltv.com


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