Privacy Concerns At Public Meetings In Dallas
DALLAS (CBS 11 NEWS) – It is a delicate balance. Some people want to speak at public, local government meetings. But the information they have to provide in order to be heard is raising concerns about their privacy and security.
“I feel a little bit uncomfortable that everybody in this court has my address and my personal phone on this paper,” said Adryana Boyne. Before being allowed to addressed Dallas County Commissioners Tuesday, she was required to give her home address and phone number out loud, as well as write them down on a registration form — all of it available to anyone who wants it.
Cecile Fernandez shares Boyne’s concern.. “Any time your information is out there in the public it’s kind of a scary thing,” Fernandez says. After she spoke out earlier this year she claims a critic followed her out to her car, “… and started yelling at me and calling me very un-nice names….all he has to do is print off my name and address on the internet—of course I watched and I didn’t have an incidents at my home…” But Fernandez, who now wants to be elected to Commissioners Court, says she was worried for her family. She denies it has anything to do with her status as a candidate. “That’s not the situation. I’ve been attending Commissioners Court since before I was a candidate, I’ve been a patriot for a long time, and I think free elections and free speech are important.”
Allan Saxe has concerns, too. “I would think it could have a deterrent effect on citizens who want to stand up and have a comment,” says Saxe, who teaches political science at UT Arlington. He agrees it’s vital for government to be transparent, but this issue may have unintended consequences. “In a very strange way the Open Records Act actually could be a deterrent on citizens getting up and voicing their opinion.” Saxe would prefer that if home addresses and phone numbers are to be required that they could only be accessed through an opens records request, and not merely published on handouts during a meeting or be readily available on an website. “And to make them (speakers) say everything about themselves — where they live, their phone number, as well as their name — I think that could be a deterrent as well as an invasion of their privacy.” He also observes that elected officials themselves are not required to publish their personal information at every meeting.
The Dallas County Commissioners Court policy is hardly unique; the Dallas City Council has a similar requirement. The city’s card asks for a resident’s address and phone number. Fort Worth city council asks the same of its speakers. Commissioners in Tarrant and Denton Counties do the same. Collin County asks only for the city where a speaker lives. We tried to get an on-camera interview with someone from Dallas County government for two days, but no one was available. We are assured though, in an e-mail, that the policy is not new to this current court and has been in place without concerns being voiced for some time.