City Still Hiding BARC Documents, Despite AG's Ruling

As Hair Balls has previously noted, the City of Houston apparently doesn't want its citizens knowing what's going on at the Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care. For the past few months, advocates concerned for the health and safety of the more than 20,000 animals BARC processes each year have submitted numerous public information requests. The Health and Human Services Department's immediate reaction is to forward the requests to the Attorney General with a sort of kitchen-sink list of reasons the requested material is not public.

But on March 17, the AG's office ruled that "complaints by a named employee regarding a city facility and related reports, memoranda, communications and correspondence produced in response to his complaints" is public information. Assistant AG Pamela Wissemen wrote "To the extent such information exists, we presume that the city has released it. If not, the city must do so at this time."

We hate to give away the Sixth Sense-like twist ending, but the city has not released the information, according to reporter Nicole Sica, one of several people who filed requests for this information. (The "named employee," by the way is former BARC vet David Rundell, who operated without proper licensing during most of his tenure with the city, and who is currently the subject of an investigation by the Houston Police Department's Office of Inspector General. Also, the dude was reprimanded for botching the surgeries of several cats, including one whose intestines popped out a few days after Rundell took the ol' scalpel to it.)

Rundell had previously threatened to become a "whistleblower" if BARC ever fired him, which is one reason that many BARC critics believe he was allowed to remain despite the fact that he didn't have the Texas Department of Public Safety certification to dispense controlled substances.

"It's so disheartening," Sica wrote in an e-mail to Hair Balls. "For weeks, myself and other actively involved volunteers and animal welfarists have been told repeatedly that changes for the good are coming, and transparency will be a part of the new repertoire. If this new 'transparency' is any indication of what is to come, obviously we don't speak the new language."

However, it's entirely possible that the city is using an older version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, which may very well define "transparency" as "a form of obfuscation."

We asked Tom Kelley at the AG's office what recourse a person has if it appears that a city refuses to release public information. He said the requestor -- or anyone who had relevant information -- should call the AG's open-records hotline, 1-877-673-6839. Hair Balls did that and got a prompt reply, and now we're faxing in our formal complaint.

All this because some local animal lovers are tired of animals being mistreated by government workers in a government facility. Damn rabble-rousers. Hair Balls will keep you posted.

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