Recently,the Willacy County Navigation District received a Freedom of Information Actfor the names and addresses of all Marina Slip lessees. Sometime before that, thesame person had determined that it was necessary to have the mailing address ofevery land leaseholder in the Willacy County Navigation District (WCND). This earlierrequest resulted in a prolonged legal effort by the Navigation District touphold an internal policy to minimize the amount of lessee person informationprovided to outside persons or entities.

Theinformation requested in both FOIA requests is public so it is understandableto believe it is unusual for the Navigation District to have a restrictive unwrittenpolicy. Especially for said policy to result in legal proceedings going all theway to the Texas State Attorney General’s Office. Here are the reasons why theNavigation District implemented the now-defunct policy and why the WCND did notwant to comply with the request.

Our policyoriginally came into being several years ago when the Willacy County NavigationDistrict received a non-FOIA request for the names and mailing addresses ofevery lessee in the Port. At the time, several separate groups and individualscame forward to the Navigation District and requested that their informationnot be shared for various reasons including privacy and safety concerns. Thesituation was unprecedented and resulted in the WCND restricting theinformation given to the non-FOIA request. Despite the new request being donethrough the Freedom of Information Act, the Navigation District felt that itwas obligated to protect the privacy of the citizens who had requested it aswell as those who may be in danger if their information was sharedindiscriminately across the internet.

Uponreceiving the Freedom of Information Act request, the Navigation Districtcommunicated with its legal council on whether or not the information should beshared. The discussion moved to disregarding the internal policy and providingthe information when the Navigation District received concerning news. Therewas documented and recorded video evidence of the citizen or their associatesstating their intent on harassing the district up to and including legalproceedings. This evidence combined with the fact that the request had gone tothe Navigation District with its limited staff and not to another entity inWillacy County that could provide the same information without as much impactto the operations of the agency dollars convinced the legal counsel to ask theTexas Attorney General’s Office for permission to deny the request.

Over thecourse of several months, the request was sent to the AG’s Office. There, aninitial review resulted in the Navigation District’s request being rejected onthe erroneous basis that no evidence had been provided. The Office saw theirmistake and reviewed the case a second time.

Unfortunatelyfor those requesting their information to be withheld the Attorney GeneralOffice deemed it necessary to provide the information requested and it has beenprovided to outside persons.  Since thatrelease an additional Freedom of Information Request for the release ofinformation pertaining to the marina lessees has been received from the sameperson and the information has been provided since the Attorney General alreadyset a precedence to provide.

The WCNDspent a great deal of time and expense to honor the requests of our lessees tonot share their information, but the Attorney General advised it must beprovided. The Navigation District understands the reasoning behind the AG’sdecision and will continue to willingly comply. It is our hope that yourdelivery addresses mailboxes do not become a bin for excessive unsolicitedmail, however the ability to honor your requests to not distribute yourpersonal information has been removed from our offices and we can no longer guaranteeto what nature your personal information will be utilized, sold, or distributedthrough external entities once it is provided through the FOIA request.