City of Houston Refuses to Make Public Their “After-Action Report” Following 2021 Winter Freeze
Houston will not release its retrospective report on the 2021 winter freeze, citing a post-9/11 law shielding information that could be exposed by terrorists or criminals.
After the February freeze, the city of Houston drafted a report, called “After-Action Report/Improvement Plans for the 2021 Winter Storm,” when plunging temperatures crippled the state’s electrical grid, water supply, and led to hundreds of deaths across Texas.
Following a request by the Houston Chronicle for access to the document, City Attorney Arturo Michel stated, “The information (the Chronicle has) requested is confidential by law and thus the city cannot release it,”.
Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, which oversees the state’s public records law, accepted the city’s argument in an April ruling and the decision was shared with the Chronicle on Tuesday.
“Based on (the city’s) representations and our review, we find (the city has) demonstrated the information at issue relates to tactical plans of an emergency response provider or to an assessment of vulnerabilities of persons or properties to an act of terrorism or related criminal activity and is maintained by or for a governmental entity for the purpose of preventing, detecting, responding to, or investigating an act of terrorism or related criminal activity,” the ruling said. “Accordingly, the city must withhold the submitted information.”
Joseph Larsen is interviewed by the Houston Chronicle
Media law attorney Joseph Larsen, who has worked extensively on public information cases, stated in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, “Their hands are not tied, that’s just ridiculous. They can release the report if they want to,” Larsen said of the city. “This is one of the very worst exceptions… It can be used to basically withhold anything.”
The open records law is supposed to be “liberally construed in favor of granting a request for information,” the attorney general’s office has said. Exceptions to that rule should be interpreted narrowly, Larsen said.
“They’re not being narrowly interpreted, and that’s just a fact,” Larsen said. “They allow government bodies to cover their behinds for any specific event, and it prevents the public from actually fixing the problems, which is the whole point of freedom of information.”