By The Dallas Morning News
At a conference put on last month by the attorney general’s office to help train local and state officials on how to comply with the Texas Public Information Act, one of the experts providing advice was Marc Rylander.
Rylander works for Attorney General Ken Paxton and in comments caught on video he managed to embarrass himself and his boss. Worse still, he undermined a reputation lawyers in that office have built over many years for evenhanded enforcement of the state’s open meetings and open records laws, no matter who happens to be attorney general.
Most readers have probably never heard of Rylander. Since April, he has been Paxton’s communications director. Paxton’s office oversees the open records division, which is where local officials turn when they want to keep public records secret.
The law presumes the records are public, but gives local officials up to 10 days to decide to seek the attorney general’s guidance. The idea, of course, is that the records should be turned over immediately, unless the government has good-faith reason to believe an exception applies. The AG’s office looks at the records and decides whether they can be withheld.
That system works when both sides believe the public records division is acting in good faith, and when its lawyers recognize the records in question belong to the people, not the officials who merely have custody of them for safekeeping.
How alarming then to find that Rylander has been hired by the attorney general without having grasped these essentials.
He sees the public information law as a weapon to use against reporters, or something to help settle scores. How petty.
And possibly illegal.
“Communications guys love it when reporters make a request and you all wait until the 23rd hour of the 10th day to send it back to them,” Rylander said.
The moderator, apparently aware he was at a training conference, interjected. “Don’t do that. Right? Right?”
Rylander: “Well, I’m supposed to tell you not to do that. … Depends who the reporter is. … I promised the attorney general I would not say anything bad about The Dallas Morning News so I’m not going to do it.”
But he did, of course. “It’s gotten so bad in newspapers especially that I almost got to the point that I avoid the newspaper people at all costs because newspapers have fired or had to let go all of their good journalists. … They peddle their rags on Groupon. … I mean, it’s a joke.”
We get that this news organization’s reporting on Paxton has been tough. That happens when an attorney general comes into office shadowed by criminal indictments and civil fraud allegations.
The Dallas Morning News takes its responsibilities seriously, and demonstrates that in black and white each day. When it makes a mistake, it owns it.
Texans are paying the salary of a man to represent their chief legal officer who can’t say the same. That’s an unconscionable disservice.