County Releases Withheld Document to Me
Last Wednesday, February 2, 2016, the County released a document to me that they had withheld from an open records request that I had filed back on October of 2015. The document is a summary of the 407(f) Deferred Compensation Plan Agreement for Jim Valenti, that the county’s attorney had prepared. It was marked “Privileged and Confidential: Attorney Client Privilege and/or Attorney Work Product.” The document does not reveal anything we do not already know about the deferred compensation that Jim Valenti is expected to receive when he leaves UMC at the end of his current contract later this year.
However, how I ended up with a copy of the document might be of interest to some of you. It also gives us an opportunity to see what documents a government entity routinely withholds as client/attorney privileged.
As many of you know, I had requested documents about Jim Valenti’s deferred compensation plan on October 9, 2015. On November 4, 2015, (Jim Valenti Open Records Request Detail Two Million Payment) I received the documents I had requested, except for a “summary document” the county argued was excerpted from disclosure because it was a client/attorney document.
As you can see, it took nearly a month for me to receive the first set of records. The delay, which is routine in many open records requests makes it difficult to share important information with you. Not only do I have to submit the open records requests but I must also track them from submission to the time when I finally get the documents and, when necessary, the opinion of the Texas Attorney General for a withheld document. In this case, I did not receive a response to the withheld document until January 29, 2016, almost four months later.
Sometimes the Texas Attorney General agrees with the public entity and allows them to withhold a document. Much less, the attorney general orders them to release a document to me. In this particular case, the County was right to withhold the document because it is clearly an attorney/client document. Nonetheless, the Texas Attorney General told the County to release the document to me.
Because the County was late, by one day, in officially mailing its request to the attorney general for an opinion to withhold the document.
In OR2016-01885, the Texas Attorney General did not opine on the appropriateness of withholding the document. Rather, they focused on the ten-day time limit to make the request of them. According to the Texas Attorney General’s opinion, the County submitted its request on November 4, 2015, as evidenced by the postmark. This means that they missed the deadline by one day and as a result, they were forced to give me a copy of the document.
The document, dated November 11, 2014, really does not shed any new information on the expected deferred compensation that Jim Valenti is expected to get upon the conclusion of his contract. The only interesting tidbit is the attorneys’ opinion that the deferred compensation is only a “mere promise to pay Jim money at some time in the future.”
I shared this with you today because it shows why it is sometimes hard to bring you all of the relevant information on a timely basis. Some of you get upset with me because I do not cover a topic of interest to you sooner than later. Unfortunately, the time it takes to submit, process and understand the documents from an open records requests takes literally months. This is in addition to the research that goes into the topic.
The other reason I wanted to share this experience with you is to show you that being one day late forced the County to give me a document that is normally allowed to be withheld from public release.
You can download the document by clicking here.