UTSA’s Open Records: Valuable Texas Assets
The Texas’ Records Management Interagency Coordinating Council (RMICC) considers state records, including those at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), as valuable Texas assets. The records we manage at UTSA carry value as both citizens and government alike count on them to be accurate, reliable and authentic.1 If requested under the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA), these records are to be made available to the public unless the information is deemed confidential by law.
A Short History of Open Records in Texas. In 1973 the 63rd Legislature adopted the Texas Open Records Act now known as the TPIA. The legislation was in response to the Sharpstown scandal. “. . . the scandal . . . exposed some of the darkest corners of state government, where lobbyists doled out money in exchange for legislative action, lawmakers enriched themselves with tax dollars and weak disclosure rules ensured the public did not know about it.”2 The TPIA serves to provide transparency and access to information held by state government. Section 552.001(a) of the TPIA states, “. . . it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees.”
UTSA’s Open Records Procedures. UTSA follows procedures set forth by The University of Texas System Policy UTS 139 Texas Public Information Act, and UTSA’s Handbook of Operating Procedures Policy 9.08 Texas Public Information Act. These policies provide specific procedures to be followed by the Office of Open Records (Open Records) in the Office of Legal Affairs and all UTSA faculty, staff and students.
UTSA’s Open Records Process. When UTSA’s Open Records staff receives a records request, the request description is sent to a department records liaison. The liaison has five business days to gather and send back applicable records. This provides time for Open Records staff to assess the records’ responsive content and review for possible legal exceptions. With few limited circumstances, UTSA generally does not have the authority to determine if an exception applies and must seek a ruling from the Attorney General within 10 business days of receipt of the request. In fact many exceptions will be waived if UTSA does not ask the Attorney General for this ruling and provide a copy of the records. Open Records, whether or not requesting exceptions, will reply to the requestor within 10 business days with the release of records or the status of their request.
COVID-19 and Suspended Timelines: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor of Texas declared a public health emergency and disaster. Per the Attorney General Office’s guidance, if a governmental body has closed its physical offices for purposes of public health or an epidemic response, the closed days do not count as “business days” under the TPIA. The deadlines are paused until the governmental body officially reopens. This means TIPIA requests received during the shutdown are not due until UTSA officially returns to campus. During this time, the Office of Legal Affairs and Open Records understands the difficulty of obtaining some requested records. Open Records is also working diligently with departments to maintain, as reasonable, five and 10 day deadlines during the shutdown which will help avoid the inevitable logjam of requests when we reopen.
UTSA’s Valuable Texas Assets. RMICC also states that, “Each state agency and university employee (EVERYONE) is responsible for following the laws and rules for creating, maintaining, and properly disposing of state records and public information.” 3 UTSA’s valuable Texas assets showcase our accomplishments and documents the testimony of our Roadrunner family. Records not only provide the public with the transparency in government, but they tell our story and serve as tools to preserve the value and history of The University of Texas at San Antonio.
GOVERNMENT CODE, TITLE 5. OPEN GOVERNMENT; ETHICS, SUBTITLE A. OPEN GOVERNMENT, CHAPTER 552. PUBLIC INFORMATION, SUBCHAPTER A. GENERAL PROVISIONS. Sec. 552.001. POLICY; CONSTRUCTION. (a) Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.
(b) This chapter shall be liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information.
- Records Management Interagency Coordinating Council, “Records and Information Management for State Agencies and State Universities,” (2017), 2, https://rmicc.state.tx.us/docs/Educational%20Materials/AgencyUniversityInfo2017.pdf.
- Jay Root, “Texas Ethics Reform: A Long, Tortured History,” The Texas Tribune, February 1, 2013, https://www.texastribune.org/2013/02/01/texas-ethics-reform-long-tortured-history/.
- Records Management Interagency Coordinating Council, “Records and Information Management for State Agencies and State Universities,” 2.
The contents of this article are intended to convey general information only, and not to provide legal advice or opinions. Please contact the Office of Legal Affairs (210-458-4105) to obtain legal counsel on any particular university issue or matter.