Friday, August 13, 2010

Heartwarming Story From A Rural Sheriff's Facebook

Followup: AG's office says all social networking is public record
Obviously, the floggings will continue until morale improves!

In the brave new cyberworld, public officials are using
Twitter, Facebook, websites and Google blogspots to get
their message across.

Amid the budgetary bickering and flash-in-the-pan
grandstanding of election time, sometimes a story comes
along that stirs the blood, makes the heart go giddy-up and
brings the water to the eyes.

Just such a happening occurred last week at a Hill County
Commissioners' Court budget hearing.

To match the 2010 tax rate with all the calculations state
law allows, commissioners learned they are facing a $532,000
shortfall due to a $13,807,000 drop in revenue.

County Judge Justin Lewis proposed a budget in which each
department head would have to make cuts and in the case of
the Sheriff's Department, he called for the elimination of
one patrol officer's job and two jailers.

Sheriff Jeffry T. Lyon, an old-school lawman who once held
down a patrolman's duties at a McLennan County police
department, told the judge that cutting two jobs at the jail
would put the department afoul of Texas Commission on Jail
Standards guidelines.

Reportedly, the judge said they could work around that one.

But when it came time to put the patrol deputy's position on
the chopping block, Captain Larry Armstrong rose to speak.

He said he would personally donate $100 from each paycheck
the county writes for him during the coming fiscal year.

Having drawn that line in the sand, all the road deputies
who were on the spot at the courthouse stood in support of
taking a cut in their salaries so their brother officer
won't become unemployed. The decision is unanimous. They
will pay his salary out of their own before they will see
him unemployed and see their constituents go without patrol

Read all about it. It's posted on the Hill County Sheriff's
Department's Facebook page, along with press releases about
alleged drug dealers getting locked up, crime perpetrators
of all types facing charges and just anything you would need
to know about the Sheriff's responsibilities. It's all out
there in plain English and it's looking pretty good to The
Legendary, who remembers the bad old days when he worked a
beat in Hillsboro and couldn't get the time of day from law
enforcement, court clerks or anyone else in the Hill County

It was all under investigation and they didn't want to lose
their jobs. Those were dark days in the dark ages, a
lifetime in the past.

Men and women of the Hill County Sheriff's Department,
consider yourselves in proud possession of a brand-new,
shiny "attaboy" from The Legendary. That's what I'm talking

In other areas, I just got back from a conference on freedom
of public information as it flows through cyberspace of
toot, tweet, facebook and blog.

As it turns out, if it's about public business, it's public
information and fully discoverable under a Texas Public
Information Act request, "no matter the medium of its
transmission," according to Deputy Attorney General Amanda
Crawford, chief of the Open Records Division.

She and a trio of reporters, Robert Quigley of the Austin
American-Statesman, Josh Baugh of the San Antonio Express-
News, and Elise Hu of The Texas Tribune cussed and discussed
the role of social media in today's world of high-tech news
gathering and dissemination at the 2010 Bernard and Audre
Rapoport State Conference of the Freedom of Information
Foundation of Texas at the Renaissance Hotel in Austin.

Here are a few of their comments:

According to Ms. Crawford, no matter if a discussion about
public business took place over an e-mail transmission, on a
Facebook page or in a tweeting session, all such are "still
communications under the public information act."

Mr. Baugh, a city Hall reporter at the San Antonio daily,
said, "Getting it might be a different story."

The truth is, there is a pending lawsuit seeking just that
kind of information from a certain Bexar County Commissioner
who sent a lot of material by e-mail and holds that it's
just not public information. Journalists and other
activists are willing to meet him in court to see if the
judge will change his mind.

Ms. Hu said she uses Tweeter to establish relationships with
people who follow her work and that of other journalists at
the tres-savvy online political site, The "Texas Tribune"
and "Texas Weekly."

She also follows public officials' blogs and Facebook pages.

She says she's not sure if Governor Rick Perry does his own
tweeting and blogging, but it's good reading, nevertheless.
An example of some bad stuff: Senator Grassley of Iowa.
"His stuff is all disjointed and all over the place."

Mr. Baugh chimed in, saying, "Most of the people I follow
are journalists."

That was when Mr. Quigley spoke up and got mucho laughter in
his comment about President Barack Obama's blog:

"Landing here, going there, giving a speech."

Next entry:

"Landing here, going there, giving a speech."

Uh. Yeah.

Then there was the impostor that established a Tweet page
for the Austin Police Department, according to Ms. Hu.

"They actually had to step in and do something about that
one." The blog service shut the bogus page down.

Said Mr. Quigley, to more laughter, "I think they were
trying to be helpful - you know - junior police officers."

Public officials, beware. There were close to a hundred
suits in attendance, most of them lawyers who work for state
regulatory agencies.

The conclusion, according to Mr. Crawford, Open Records boss
for AG Greg Abbot:

"A lot of times it's just ignorance of the law...It's the
content of the communications; it's not the medium of

Something tells me she means business.

The foundation has a hotline. They welcome folks to use it.
Lawyers with subject matter expertise are standing by to
take inquiries.