Why Does the 'Chronicle' So Ardently Defend the Indefensible?

RECEIVED Wed., Oct. 31, 2012

Dear Editor,
    Re: "Open and Shut” and “Point Austin: The Law Is a Ass” [News, Oct. 26].
    It’s time for The Austin Chronicle to admit that it is nothing more than an apologist for the Austin City Council’s illegal behavior.
    In publishing these articles, the Chronicle has placed itself squarely in the camp of those who question the legitimacy of the state’s open government laws, which provide the foundation for our democracy. You might as well have joined the plaintiffs in the recent federal lawsuit that tried to remove the criminal provisions of the Texas Open Meetings Act, who contended that elected officials’ First Amendment rights were infringed.
    They lost.
    The Chronicle and its readers also lose with this kind of coverage.
    TOMA was enacted in 1973 and has withstood countless legal challenges and legislative attempts to water it down. After four decades it’s still the law – and with good reason.
    The county attorney's investigation found numerous instances of probable cause that council members violated TOMA. Specific violations are detailed in each deferred prosecution agreement. The mayor and council members would not have signed these agreements – these plea bargains – had they not violated the law.
    Mike Kanin aired the trade-offs inherent in open government and democracy, pitting efficiency vs. openness – a false dichotomy. The article contains numerous serious mistakes that someone not familiar with the facts is prone to making – especially when he’s writing for a publication whose news editor, Michael King, has repeatedly demonstrated nothing but disdain for the open government laws that most journalists strongly believe in and try to help enforce.
    The Chronicle contends it knows best how city government should operate. To hell with the law, listen to the Chronicle – not the attorney general of Texas, who has issued numerous opinions that explain why the council’s conduct was illegal. Pay no attention to TOMA, the Texas Public Information Act, or the Local Government Records Act.
    Kanin airs at length the staff and council members’ complaints about how the city has been forced to operate legally under TOMA. (Gosh, it’s just so inconvenient to follow the law!) Yet this fatally flawed report cites not even one open government legal expert on the reasons why TOMA is essential.
    Kanin’s story expresses wonder at “why [the city attorney's office] hasn't been more aggressive in defending what was, until [Brian] Rodgers' complaint, the status quo.” The answer is obvious: Randall Buck Wood – who wrote TOMA in 1973, said of the council’s conduct: “It’s a classic violation. ... I practice criminal law and I don’t know how to defend it.”
    Which begs the question: Why does the Chronicle try so ardently to defend the indefensible?
Ken Martin
Founder, editor, and publisher
The Austin Bulldog
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