Fort Worth

Fort Worth councilman doesn’t have to release results of website survey, Paxton rules

Protesters in downtown Fort Worth in August urged the City Council to join a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4.
Protesters in downtown Fort Worth in August urged the City Council to join a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4. rmallison@star-telegram.com

Fort Worth Councilman Cary Moon does not have to release results of a survey conducted last year on his website, CaryMoon.com, that asked constituents whether they feel the city should join a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4, known as the state’s “sanctuary cities” law, the Texas attorney general’s office ruled.

Although Moon asked the question in his capacity as a council member before the City Council took a vote on Aug. 14, the attorney general’s office said in a Jan. 3 opinion that it agrees with Moon’s argument that the website is for his campaign and paid for with political contributions. As such, information he garners on it is not subject to the state’s Public Information Act.

“The campaign further explains the information at issue was collected to question voters about the specific topic, solicit volunteers and support, communicate with the electorate, and further build the campaign’s database,” the opinion said. “The campaign and the city also state no city staff, resources, or funds were used to collect, assemble, or maintain the information at issue.”

The ruling was sought by city attorneys after United Fort Worth and the Star-Telegram asked for all survey results through separate public information requests. United Fort Worth argued Moon is hiding information that supports their position.

Moon on Monday called the the opinion a victory. He said he gave the city attorneys the requested information, but asked they seek the attorney general’s opinion because he did give respondents the option to keep their information private. Constituents were also directed to Moon’s website from his Facebook page.

“I did turn in everything to the city with the exception of those who clicked the box ‘don’t release,’ ” Moon said. “My office follows the rules and that’s what I’ve done.”

Mindia Whittier, a United Fort Worth organizer, said Moon’s survey was used to help him make a decision on official city business and that Moon “used a loophole to avoid transparency.”

Paxton’s decision “undermines public trust and sets a dangerous precedent by giving permission for any elected official to use campaign resources to circumvent the Public Information Act,” Whittier said.

United Fort Worth is a grassroots advocacy group that formed during the SB 4 fight over whether Fort Worth should join a lawsuit challenging the new immigration enforcement law. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill into law in May. The case is being heard in federal court.

The council voted 5-4 not to join the suit. Moon voted against joining.

Disappointed in the outcome, United Fort Worth began seeking emails and other correspondence sent to the mayor and council members, and other city officials, regarding SB 4, arguing that the vote didn’t reflect public sentiment. The mayor’s and city secretary’s offices, and four other council members released the requested information.

“They think I didn’t listen to my constituents,” Moon said.

A cursory look at Moon’s website shows constituents who made their views known supported joining the lawsuit 3-to-1.

They hoped to persuade the Fort Worth City Council to join a lawsuit against the "sanctuary cities" law, which takes effect Sept. 1. (Video by Ryan Osborne)

The students began the protest after first period, at about 9:45 a.m. Friday.

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