A lawsuit filed by Keller school district officials against the Texas attorney general over an open-records request for individual bond survey responses has been resolved, with both sides getting a little of what they wanted.
Aaron Harris, who led the political action committee that opposed the $169.5 million bond package approved by voters in November, was seeking a copy of individual responses to a bond survey, along with any identifying information on respondents.
“The court split the baby, with a way for both sides to get something,” said Amanda Bigbee, general counsel for Keller schools. “They ruled that we had to provide individual responses but didn’t have to provide names, addresses and identifying information.”
They ruled that we had to provide individual responses but didn’t have to provide names, addresses and identifying information.
Amanda Bigbee, general counsel for Keller schools
Harris, while acknowledging that he appreciated getting the information, said the lawsuit was a waste of taxpayer money.
“What bothers me about this whole thing is the law allowed me to have the data all along,” Harris said. “Why did KISD take it to court?”
Why did KISD take it to court?
Aaron Harris, bond package opponent
Bigbee said the district had no choice.
“We were stuck in the middle,” she said. “I didn’t have the information to release. I don’t have subpoena powers.”
The ruling was issued last month in Travis County district court.
Fifty-seven percent of voters approved the bond package, which will build and renovate schools and upgrade security and technology. Turnout was high, with 40 percent of the district’s voters, or 36,753 people, casting ballots.
The day before the Nov. 4 election, the attorney general’s office said that because the district paid for the survey with public funds and it pertained to official district business, all the information, including names of participants and how they responded, should be available to the public.
The survey of 453 district residents was conducted in July 2014 by Baselice & Associates, an Austin-based public opinion research firm specializing in political and public affairs issues. It was designed to gauge interest in a possible bond election and test the persuasiveness of certain statements.
The district didn’t have the individual responses, just a compilation of the results, Bigbee said. Baselice officials told her that they would not supply the individual names and responses because they had informed those taking the survey that their identities would remain confidential.
$23,050 what the Keller school district paid for the survey
The district paid $23,050 for the survey.
District officials gave Harris the survey summary and the invoice showing what they paid for the service. But they could not give names and individual answers because they did not have that information.
Legal fees at $17,000
Harris has said he objected to the survey because its explicit purpose was to “measure the persuasiveness” of certain statements.
“Using information with intent to influence the outcome of an election is a violation of state law,” Harris said.
Bigbee contended that because the survey happened months before Keller trustees called the election and because all the information was factual and did not advocate for or against the bond package, the survey did not violate state law.
Once the ruling came that the information should be released, Bigbee said, the attorney general’s office told her that the only way for administrators to avoid possible charges for failing to provide the information was to sue.
$17,000 what the district spent on the lawsuit
Bigbee estimates that the district spent about $17,000 to hire a legal firm to handle the case.
“I wish badly that we didn’t have to spend $17,000, but it was not frivolous,” she said. “We didn’t have any other option because we didn’t have the information.”