Craddick earlier released full calendarsRedactions began as investigations heated up
By Mike Ward, Austin American-Statesman
October 9, 2004
In June 2003, when a government watchdog group asked for copies of his official appointment calendar, Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick willingly obliged, providing the information with nothing held back.
But less than a year later, with Travis County prosecutors zeroing in on allegations of wrongdoing by political operatives with ties to Craddick, the Midland Republican provided the calendars under another request -- but with much of the information blacked out.
Though the political climate had changed, the state law had not.
So how was Craddick able to keep secret many of the details about his schedule?
"They're now in a political hot seat, that's the difference," said Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, which requested and received Craddick's complete calendar.
"Citizens now can't even see who their top officials are meeting with."
On Thursday, Austin lawyer Cris Feldman filed a lawsuit against Craddick seeking to overturn Craddick's decision to keep secret many details about who he meets with and why. The speaker also is being sued by the Austin American-Statesman for refusing to make public his official phone records, as speakers in the past have done.
Bob Richter, Craddick's press secretary, said Friday he was unaware of any policy change from the time of the first request for the speaker's calendar to the second. "No one here recalls anything like that," he said. "We did have a change in who handles public information requests."
Michelle Wittenberg became House general counsel in November 2003, he said.
McDonald said that in June 2003 his group requested copies of Craddick's appointment and scheduling calendars dating back to Jan. 1, 2003. Craddick provided an unedited copy on June 17.
At the same time, McDonald said, the same information was requested from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who provided copies of his official calendar with some details blacked out -- names of people he met with, their business affiliation, doctors' appointments, among other information. Dewhurst then asked Attorney General Greg Abbott whether he could keep all the blacked-out information confidential, under a state law allowing the lieutenant governor and lawmakers to protect the identities of some constituents who communicate with them, and the common law right to privacy.
The attorney general's office in August 2003 decided that the names of "individual residents of Texas with whom the lieutenant governor communicated" could be withheld, but that corporate and business identities and other information had to be disclosed. Dewhurst subsequently provided new copies of his schedules to McDonald adding that information.
Kate Linkous, a spokeswoman for Dewhurst, said the decision from Abbott was sought because it was the first time anyone had requested Dewhurst's schedule. Spencer Reid, Dewhurst's general counsel, made redactions "based on what he thought was appropriate and then forwarded them to the attorney general to be sure that was right," she said. "We released the additional information that the attorney general said should be released."
As for Craddick, when Feldman filed his request last spring, Craddick's staff redacted an array of information. Most all of it appears to be names.
About the same time, Craddick released heavily edited copies of his official phone records to the American-Statesman.
Tom Smith, Texas director of the watchdog group Public Citizen, said the recent change in practice is troubling.
"The schedules of public officials have generally been public record for years, under the concept that what public officials are doing involving policy, with public money in public buildings, should be public business," he said.
"Now, Craddick is attempting to keep this information from being made public -- and you have to ask why."