Why does America's Angels want to withhold information?
We know that, in its two years of existence, the agency has repeatedly been cited by state investigators for failure to perform background checks on frequent visitors to its foster homes. We know that ex-employees told the Press they had concerns about Newsome-Talley being too close to her network of foster parents.
But there's more that Newsome-Talley doesn't want the public to know. And, thanks to Texas's open records law, a state agency needs to help the subject of an open records request bury information.
In researching America's Angels, the Press filed an open records request for the agency's procurement records with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. We were hoping to see what information Newsome-Talley provided to the state to show that she had the credentials to look out for the safety and well-being of children.
We were told that, pursuant to state law, the department had to first give Newsome-Talley a chance to object to the request and prove why some or all of the information should remain private.
The open records law allows -- but does not require -- a state agency to seek an Attorney General's opinion before releasing the information. For some puzzling reason, the department decided that was necessary in this case. And because the department did that, the law says officials "shall make a good faith attempt to notify" the subject of the records request. Plus, officials must explain to the subject "each reason the person has as to why the information should be withheld." So the Department of Family and Protective Services, which has already cleared America's Angels in the case of the 13-year-old girl who says she was raped, sent Newsome-Talley a letter detailing the various ways she can try to hide information.
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She could, for example, object to the release of any "trade secrets and commercial or financial information." We have no idea what "trade secrets" a child placement agency could have; and America's Angels' contract -- which spells out how much money America's Angels receives per child -- has already been released.
There's also an exception for "geological or geophysical information" (say what?) and "economic development negotiation information," neither of which strikes us as particularly relevant to foster care.
We asked America's Angels' lawyer, Bryan Reese, if he cared to comment, but he said he couldn't comment on pending litigation -- despite the fact that the open records request is independent of the civil suit. But we figure it was easier for him to say that than to try to explain why America's Angels wants to keep certain information under lock and key. If a lawyer can't honestly say, "We have absolutely nothing to hide," it's probably better for that lawyer to say nothing at all.
We'll just have to wait to see if Newsome-Talley is successful in her efforts to withhold information. After all, we're just trying to shed light on who may have dropped the ball, leading to the alleged gang rape of a young girl in the state's care. We'd hate to be so rude as to violate a a state contractor's privacy.