City's records request resolved
Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Oct. 14, 2004 -- Within 24 hours of learning of an open records complaint being filed, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts' office found an apparent error in the collection of the mixed beverage tax on drinks sold in Sulphur Springs.

Consequently, the state is sending a check for $6,526.89 to the city.

"l'll believe it when I see it," said City Manager Marc Maxwell. "It is a shame we had to go through all of this just to comply with the Open Records act."

City staff discovered last spring that tax receipts on the mixed drink sales dropped with the opening of a new restaurant and asked the state comptroller's office to conduct an audit in an effort to find out why the tax proceeds dropped rather than increased.

"We saw the tax rate take a dip, a noticeable decline for a few years, and we thought it was a bit odd," Maxwell said. "We asked the comptroller's office to look into it, and they did."

An informal request was first made to the state comptroller's office for information from the audit, followed by a letter.

"We got a terse phone call simply telling us they would not respond," the city manager said.

The single telephone call from the comptroller's office to tell the city the information simply would not be available was not adequate, according to City Attorney Jim McLeroy, who said he did not believe the response was either appropriate or legal under the state's open records statutes.

"We got a telephone call from a Larry Koening in the comptroller's office who advised the person he was talking to at the city the information was not available to us because it was 'not public,' which I don't believe was an appropriate response," McLeroy said. "I have asked the attorney general to investigate that."

The city submitted a formal open records request in July seeking release of the audit information. The request, which by law, must be answered within 10 days, drew no response from the state agency. McLeroy sent a complaint to the office of the attorney general asking for enforcement of the open records laws.

After learning of both the open records request and the complaint being filed with the attorney general through a telephone call from the News-Telegram Tuesday morning, Tim Mashburn, general counsel for the state comptroller, said Wednesday morning the problem was being resolved.

"It's taken care of," Mashburn said. "The [city's] request went to an auditor in the headquarters and was mis-routed and didn't get to the right people."

After contacting the News-Telegram Wednesday, Mashburn contacted the city attorney to advise him of the resolution and that the check was in the mail.

McLeroy said late Wednesday a letter had been sent to the attorney general advising the apparent open records violation had been resolved.

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