The following commentary was submitted for publication, and the views and opinions expressed therein are that of the author alone and are not implied to reflect the views or opinion of Odessa Headlines.
If I had told you a State District Judge issued a ruling dismissing a roughly two-year-long court battle against the City of Odessa on Friday – totally rejecting the newspaper’s arguments that the city had violated the Texas Public Information Act, you wouldn’t have known it by reading the front page of the Saturday edition of the paper.
Rather, you would have to skip past a big blue box declaring it is now the 741 day of the City of Odessa withholding some mythical public records and look for a story buried up on page three.
This is a classic example of my frustration with this entire saga.
The newspaper, which holds an important position of public trust, had lodged a baseless suit against the City of Odessa, for which they have incurred somewhere near $200,000 in legal fees, and during this court battle, they have used their position of trust and their unique position of being able to buy ink by the barrel to try and clobber the council into submission and settlement at the expense of city taxpayers.
Perhaps if the city elections had gone their way, they may have very well had their cash settlement.
Not under my watch.
The truth to all of this is that in past years the city was turning over the information in crime reports that are protected under the law and shouldn’t be released to the newspaper, and the newspaper was recklessly publishing it.
The city took corrective action to ensure sensitive information that protects the identity of crime victims and other types of protected information is protected, and the law correctly provides that the city has an opportunity to do just that.
The newspaper wanted the court to issue some kind of ruling telling the city to immediately turn over records, which would have created an impossible hurdle for the city to meet the records demands of the newspaper while trying to protect sensitive information that is not required to be released.
In the end, I think all they wanted is something to declare victory over and claw back their legal fees at the expense of taxpayers…and sell more newspapers in the meantime.
My promise to the citizens of Odessa is that I will keep a watchful eye on our departments to ensure public information is always turned over as quickly as possible, while protecting sensitive information of all types, including the protection of information relating to victims of crime.
My challenge to the newspaper is this:
With this suit, you have joined the ranks of media outlets across the nation that have abused their position of trust, and trust in the media is at all-time lows because of it.
The press plays an important role in our nation. So much so a guarantee of a free press is enshrined in our constitution, and I believe good governance is not possible without a free press keeping the public informed of the facts, and the truth.
You (the OA) may have attempted to try this case in a one-sided court of your opinion, but the State District Court of the State of Texas has reviewed the truth, and in revealing the truth the court has ruled, and you have lost. It is time to drop this farce and begin the work of repairing the damage this case has caused our community.
And to that end, as the duly elected Mayor of the great City of Odessa, my door is always open and I am ready to work with you for the betterment of our citizens, and our community.