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COPPERAS COVE

Cove Owes Tens of Thousands For Open Record Requests

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City of Copperas Cove City of Copperas Cove
COPPERAS COVE - Copperas Cove taxpayers could be bearing the brunt after legal fees from open records requests cost the city thousands.

Officials say the number of requests in the first four months of this year is unprecedented, and now, they're considering raising the city budget by roughly $67,000.

Many of the requests the city has seen so far deal directly with police records, and because many cases have prolonged investigations, the city has 10 to 15 days to consult with the attorney general's office to find out how much information can actually be released to the public.

"Most of these are just a straightforward request for the basics of a crime or an accident," Freedom of Information Foundation Texas executive director Kelley Shannon said. "Really, when you get into a more gray area - a tricky question is if somebody is delving in and needing a lot more information, and then you can run into a question of would the release of the information interfere with a police investigation.

City staff doesn't have any control over how many requests they receive or which ones actually end up going to the attorney general's office, and it remains unclear why this year has seen such an uptick in the amount of requests being handled. But, in order not to hinder any ongoing investigations, the city attorney reviews the requests individually, and that's where those fees are beginning to add up.

"It should be just a very easy process where somebody can request the basics of a crime from a police report or the basics of an accident report and just get a copy of it," Shannon said. "Each city has it's own set up for how they hand over the report, but it shouldn't be a very complicated process."

Back in 2013, the city spent nearly $100,000 in legal fees, and the additional $67,000 being added on to this year's budget brings the total to almost $170,000 for 2014 alone - all in the effort of making sure that the public maintains their right to know.

"The government is our government," Shannon said. "These are our records and they ought to be presumed public. That's what you start with. That's how it is under state law to presume a record is public unless there is something that falls under an exception that prevents it from being released."

When asked to comment on the issue, the City of Copperas Cove was unavailable.

The council is still currently in the process of amending the city budget to add that additional money where it's needed.
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