Enough already. Galveston City Attorney Dorothy Palumbo has made it clear she is no friend to the public’s Constitutionally protected right to know. But the latest example of her disdain for all things related to the First Amendment really does go too far.
Palumbo has convinced the Galveston City Council to hold a special meeting Tuesday so she and members of the council can discuss what they can legally do to force the newspaper to produce documents cited in a story published Thursday. The story was about the city’s efforts to develop options for pushing public housing on scattered sites onto the mainland.
I’m sure that news didn’t sit particularly well with the Texas General Land Office and Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who have an agreement with the city to rebuild those 388 units on the island. That’s also why the newspaper’s decision to report on this doesn’t sit particularly well with city officials.
Citing an obscure local government code, Palumbo demanded the newspaper return the documents cited in the story. We have declined.
Our attorney tells us the code applies to original documents, not copies like the ones we legally obtained through normal, Constitutionally protected methods of news gathering.
But the question isn’t whether we had a right to use the information in the documents. We did.
It’s not whether the public had a right to know the information that was in the documents. You did.
The question is: What is the point of trying to make us return the documents? Will that magically make the public and General Land Office unaware of the scattered site options the city has considered? Will not having these documents in our possession stop us from writing more about this in the future?
Of course not.
Palumbo wants to know who leaked this information to us, and she thinks having a look at what we’ve got might help her to identify the source. She has absolutely no right to that information.
Before they go much further, she and the council might want to bone up on the Texas Shield Law, which allows us to protect the identity of our sources in cases just like this. Council members also might want to think about what an enormous waste of their time and taxpayer money it would be if Palumbo is allowed to depose each of them, all the members of her staff and the attorney who prepared the memo — any of whom could have provided us with copies of the documents. Those are the kinds of steps the city would have to take before a court would consider a case under the Shield Law.
Members of the council are reasonable people. If they really think about what Palumbo is trying to do, and what it would entail, they might come to the same conclusion I have.