December 9, 2015 FOIA, Government, In The News, News

Kubosh, Martin blast HERO-related records request

Photo: Karen Warren

By: Katherine Driessen, Houston Chronicle, 12/8/15

Councilmen Michael Kubosh and Dave Martin on Tuesday blasted a records request from a D.C.-based nonprofit to those council members who voted against the Houston equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, last year.

The Campaign for Accountability’s request seeks communication between prominent local anti-HERO activists as well as anti-LGBT groups, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council, and the six council members who voted against the law. Kubosh and Martin were joined by Councilwoman Brenda Stardig and councilmen Jack Christie, Dwight Boykins and Oliver Pennington in opposing the law in May 2014.

After lengthy legal proceedings, the ordinance was placed on the ballot and voters overwhelmingly opted to repeal the law in November. The ordinance would have extended anti-discrimination protections to 15 groups, including gay and transgender residents. Conservative opponents of the law largely seized on the latter group, dubbing the law the “bathroom bill” and alleging it would have allowed men to enter women’s restrooms.

At a press conference outside City Hall on Tuesday, Kubosh said council members were being “harassed and intimated” by the request. He called on the mayor to condemn the request, and said the six council members were unfairly targeted.

“I felt like when we received this open records request for over tens of thousands of emails and 51 names of individuals and organizations that we’re going to have to search through, this is a type of bullying,” Kubosh said.

The Campaign for Accountability, a watchdog group that files records requests all over the country, responded in a written statement that the move was not meant to intimidate council members. The group called Kubosh’s charge an “outlandish allegation that seems contrived more to attract press attention than to express a serious concern.”

In an interview, deputy director Daniel Stevens also denied Kubosh’s allegation that Mayor Annise Parker, a proponent of the law, was behind the request. Kubosh called it a “lump of coal” from the mayor.

Mayoral spokeswoman Janice Evans responded to Kubosh’s comments in a written statement, saying his charge that the mayor is connected to the request is “totally unsubstantiated.”

“There are hundreds of people who have made political contributions to the mayor during her 18 years in office. Receiving open records requests is very common. We tend to get one or more a day here in the mayor’s office and they often come from people who disagree with something the mayor has done or a position she has taken on an issue. They can be overwhelming and time consuming to process but it is part of being an elected officeholder. If this is the first time the council member has received one, he should count himself lucky.”

In the written request, filed under the Texas Public Information Act, the group said it is seeking to “educate the public about the exact nature and extent of the coordination between Houston officials and outside organizations like the ADF and the AFA.”

The ADF, or the Alliance Defending, and the AFA, the American Family Association, are both national groups that actively opposed HERO.

The request does exempt correspondence that includes “sermons or religious tracts” from clergy, a nod to the backlash that ensued when lawyers for the city issued a discovery request that included sermons during the HERO legal proceedings. The city eventually rescinded those subpoenas.

Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, also attended the event in support of Kubosh and Martin. Bettencourt is already planning to convene the Senate Intergovernmental Relations committee to look into why the city has been rebuffed by the Texas Supreme Court on ballot language issues, including one pertaining to HERO. He added Tuesday that he would seek to discuss a law that would “limit out-of-state access to this type of punitive open records request.”