PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

March 18, 2013

Housing Authority stalls on request for letter

PORT ARTHUR — The Port Arthur Housing Authority may need to review the Texas Public Information Act.

After multiple phone calls, the submission of two public information request and a week’s worth of time, the housing authority still has not disclosed the documents The News requested.

The Texas Public Information Act allows the public to request documents — with few exceptions — from public, governmental entities and that those entities must “promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication or both,” according to Texas Public Information Act Section 552.221 of the Texas Government Code.

An entity does not have 10 days to produce requested public information, as many people — including those in government — may think. It must produce the information “as soon as possible under the circumstances” and “without delay,” according to the act.

A government has 10 days to seek an attorney general’s opinion if it believes the requested information is not open to the public, according to the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.

So far, the housing authority has not produced a copy of a letter it has in its possession — in a week.

On March 8, The News requested by phone a copy of a document the authority had received from the Housing and Urban Development Department. While Executive Director Seledonio “Cele” Quesada was not available to talk at the time, Tanika Traveler, executive assistant, said she would confer with the director about disclosing the letter and have him return the message.

When Quesada did return the News’ phone call by the afternoon, The News faxed a public information request to the housing authority’s office, broadly asking for any correspondence the authority had received from HUD in 2013.

After the initial request for information, Paula Watts, operations manager, called The News Monday to clarify the extent of the request. She agreed to have the requested letter emailed to The News.

By noon Tuesday, The News had not received a copy of the requested letter, so The News called Watts to inform her. Watts said she would speak with Traveler and get the letter emailed to The News as soon as Traveler returned from lunch.

The Port Arthur City Council met with PAHA at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the authority’s relocation and demolition plan for the Carver Terrace public housing apartment complex. Quesada could not attend the meeting due to a death in the family, said Ronnie Linden, chairman of PAHA board of commissioners. But Watts attended.

After the meeting, The News approached Watts to inform her that it had yet to receive the requested letter. She said she would speak with Traveler again.

Both Wednesday and Thursday, The News left multiple messages with Watts, Traveler and the executive office of the housing authority. PAHA did not return any of these messages.

With only silence emanating from PAHA’s office, The News submitted an additional Public Information Act request Thursday via email and fax.

The News called Watts again Friday morning to ensure she had received the request, but she did not answer. Neither did Traveler nor the executive office line.

With still no response from the housing authority, The News visited the PAHA office on DeQueen Boulevard Friday in an attempt to fulfill its public information request. The receptionists said neither Watts nor Traveler were in the office that day.

Shanel Dixon, housing choice voucher coordinator, said she did not know anything about a public information request. Dixon called Quesada to get to the bottom of the matter, and he told her that the authority had 10 days to send The News the information it had requested, Dixon said.

When a request for public information is made under the act, “an officer of public information of a governmental body shall promptly produce public information for inspection, duplication or both,” according to Texas Public Information Act Section 552.221 of the Texas Government Code.

This section of the law defines “promptly” as “as soon as possible under the circumstances, that is, within a reasonable time, without delay,” according to the act.

email: bcrum@panews.com

twitter: @broocrum

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