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Each year, Denton Record-Chronicle reporters send dozens of requests for public information, a quasi-formal process to obtain hard-to-obtain information from government agencies.

Requests range from routine contract requests to more complicated asks that often get bumped to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for guidance.

Below, in no particular order, are some of the best uses of the Texas Public Information Act by the Record-Chronicle this year:

Body cameras: Always on but rarely shared

Public documents obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle show Denton, Denton County have spent close to $1 million on body cameras since 2015, but footage has been shared in just two of the six officer-involved shootings in that time.

A local analysis earlier this year broke down how much taxpayers paid to equip local law enforcement officers with body cameras over the past several years and how often video from those cameras was released to those same taxpayers.

The analysis found the city of Denton and Denton County spent nearly $1 million on the cameras, and taxpayers at that time had only seen about 20 minutes of footage from two of the six times officers had shot and killed somebody over the past five years.

Texas Rangers released 43 seconds of dashcam footage in a third shooting.

Local experts said releasing body camera footage quickly can help build public trust, but it isn’t a golden bullet to address a systemic problem.

Outrage and pleas ahead of Denton school openings

The pandemic forced many public bodies into having remote meetings. That meant people wishing to comment publicly on an issue facing those bodies had to follow suit.

The overwhelming majority of public comments submitted to the Denton ISD school board from March 23 through early August were done so in writing, meaning the comments were given to board members but they often weren’t read aloud during the meetings.

A Record-Chronicle request for those comments netted 60 comments submitted, all but two of which dealt directly with the coronavirus pandemic and the district’s handling of it.

Most comments argued passionately for and against school closures.

Between virus and protests, Denton police logged fewer overtime hours

Despite attempts to curb overtime in the face of the pandemic, civil rights protests over the summer still resulted in more than 2,000 hours of overtime related to the demonstrations.

Public records showed, overall, overtime was down in 2020 for the period of time analyzed compared to the same window in 2019.

The Denton Police Department accrued $151,607 in overtime between May 30 and June 27 of this year.

No documents released related to firing of Denton ISD nurse

Denton school board members voted unanimously to terminate a probationary contract for a school district nurse in early May.

Board members held a special meeting solely to vote on the matter.

A district spokesperson at the time said the move came after an investigation by the district’s Human Resources Department.

“While Denton ISD cannot comment on the specifics of this case, we can assure you that we have high expectations for our employees with regard to professional interaction and ethical communication practices with parents and staff,” Derrick Jackson, the spokesperson, wrote at the time.

The Record-Chronicle filed two requests for public information shortly after the board vote.

One requested any and all separation agreements between nurse Kay Hill and Denton ISD, and the second requested the human resources investigation conducted into Hill’s behavior.

A Denton ISD attorney later responded that no documents existed to fill either request.

Certain aspects of an employee’s personnel file are excluded from public disclosure.

The attorney wrote that Hill was “directed to improve professional communication as a goal for the 2020-21 school year. Less than 24 hours after being directed in this manner, the employee made unprofessional comments to a co-worker, which left the Board no choice but to terminate her probationary contract based upon her inability to meet the clearly communicated expectations.”

A tale of two departments: Where DPD, DCSO diverge on use-of-force policies

The departments differed wildly in their transparency in the matter. The city Police Department had its full policy published online for anybody to review, whereas the Sheriff’s Office required a request made under the Texas Public Information Act before it would disclose its policy.

That policy was heavily redacted in sections when the Record-Chronicle eventually received it. Many redacted sections appeared to mirror unredacted sections of the Police Department’s policy.

Both agencies contracted the same company to help draft their policies.

MARSHALL REID can be reached at 940-566-6862 and via Twitter at @MarshallKReid.

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