Watchdog Journalism



 

 

This week we cover three city council meetings – Pleasanton, Jourdanton and Poteet – in the Pleasanton Express.

The nature of two of these meetings has led to the Pleasanton Express filing a Request for Public Information with the cities of Pleasanton and Poteet. The Pleasanton Express is never happy when we have to file a public information request, but watchdog journalism is an essential part of a community news organization. If we are a watchdog that doesn’t bark when needed, we are not doing our job, and we are failing our readers and our community.

We are fortunate not to have to practice watchdog journalism daily here in Atascosa County. But sometimes, it is necessary to request information that local governments are not required to make public. There are systems to retrieve that information and make it public, thus shining a light on government action or inaction to help ensure government transparency.

In Thursday’s Pleasanton City Council meeting, City Manager Johnny Huizar was put on a 21-day non-paid leave and a sixmonth probation period after an investigation into a complaint filed against him in late April.

When the Pleasanton Express shared our breaking story from our website to social media, comments were abundant. Many asked why the details of the complaint against the City Manager were not made public. Because the complaint is alleged to be made by a city employee, it is not publicly released by the city. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the Pleasanton Express to file a Request for Public Information in order to gain access to documents. The Pleasanton Express has filed four separate requests with the city of Pleasanton specifically for the complaint, the City manager’s contract, the changes that the city council stated they were making to the handbook, the terms of City Manager’s probation and the amount incurred by the city for City Manager’s legal fees, if any.

The Texas Public Information Act requires that the city “promptly produce” the requested records unless, within 10 days, they have sought the Texas Attorney General’s opinion. If a significant delay is expected in responding to the request, the city is to contact us with information about when we might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records. If the request is denied, the city is requested to cite each specific exemption they feel justifies the refusal to release the information and to notify the Express of the appeal procedures available to us under the law.

We additionally, have filed three Requests for Public Information with the City of Poteet regarding the hostile work environment complaints, the fees of the current legal counsel which was cited as one of the reasons for their termination and copies of the applications for Place 2 city council seat.

People glibly say to me “This story is going to sell newspapers.” That is not remotely on my list of reasons why these stories must be told. While news may be interesting and sometimes entertaining, its primary role is to inform and empower the reader. The purpose of news journalism is to provide citizens with factual information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their community, their societies and their government. That is our reason, and we are honored to be trusted to tell Atascosa County’s news stories since 1909.

NOEL WILKERSON HOLMES is the Publisher and Managing Editor of the Pleasanton Express. You may reach her at nwilkersonholmes@pleasantonexpress.com.

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