Sunday, March 12, 2006

John Kelso had better be choking

The following was sent in response to the Austin Statesman's humor columnist John Kelso, who recycles false allegations about the Open Government Online charter amendment. Here's the note I wrote to Kelso, cc'd to Statesman editor Rich Oppel, on behalf of ACLU of Texas:
Mr. Kelso:

If you're going to do satire about the Open Government Online charter amendment, that's fine and I say have fun. But when you tell your readers "seriously" then state something completely false, that's a smear job. Specifically:

"Seriously, one of the ridiculous features of the amendment that would put ALL of the city's public information online is that you'd be able to call up what your City Council members had to say during happy hour — as they said it.

"I'm choking if I'm joking."
That's just wrong. If councilmembers had a meeting at happy hour (and a meeting is different from a casual conversation, which doesn't have to be recorded), under the amendment they would only have to disclose (later, when they get back to their office) that they'd had a meeting and who they met with. What you've written is patently false and deserves a correction . For you to claim such conversations would be public is TRULY a joke. Choke away. Indeed, your whole description of the amendment was flawed. Like the amendment's opponents on council, your interpretation plucks out one word, "all," without including any of the caveats in the same sentence, like saying the city should only do so when "possible," and to the extent "practical."

It's funny to me that, as a humorist, you don't see the real irony here: If your doctor or accountant was handling your business with a drink in their hand, you'd have a field day with it, and most people would think they should know if that's the case. But you're actually DEFENDING city councilmembers' right to secretly handle city business while inebriated. Now that's funny. When lobbyists who bill by the hour go home from their happy hour meetings with councilmembers, they record the meeting in a lobby log and report it to their clients who pay the bills. For councilmembers, taxpayers foot the bill. It's not asking too much to require that if they're going to do city business tucked away somewhere in a bar instead of city hall, that they disclose it just like the lobbyist across the table from them does to their employer.

I can assure you that if the amendment contained any of the privacy-invading aspects that you and the City Council's misleading ballot language claim it does, the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU Central Texas chapter wouldn't be supporting it. But the negative spin you're promoting is false. The amendment simply doesn't require anyone to put email online or record conversations in bars. These are smear attacks, not factual ones. The plain language just does not support the interpretations given - the amendment has been misrepresented by its opponents and by your newspaper.

Though I know any appeal to reason may be lost here, I'd also ask you and your paper to remember that this is just a charter amendment. The city council would get complete control of how to INTERPRET what's "possible" and "practical," so there's really no danger they'll interpret it to require what you're ridiculously, but "seriously" claiming.

I'll be looking for that correction. Or news of your recent asphyxiation.

Scott Henson
ACLU of Texas Police Accountability Project


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