Indictment of Kendleton mayor arises during Sunshine Week, deemed to focus on open records, requests

Lileana Pearson Image
Friday, March 17, 2023
Mayor indicted over unfulfilled requests not the first in Houston
Sunshine Week is nationally recognized as pointing out the importance of open records and requests just as the mayor of Kendleton was indicted for not turning over records regardin

KENDLETON, Texas (KTRK) -- Imagine your water bill goes from $100 to $700 overnight. That happened to a Kendleton man prompting him to file an open records request that went unanswered.

On Thursday, the mayor of Kendleton, Darryl Humphrey, appeared in front of a judge, indicted for not promptly turning over those public records.

The team representing the Kendleton mayor at Thursday's court date spoke to ABC13 and said it was a chance to go through discovery and begin talks on resolving the indictment.

The Kendleton open record battle started over a year ago when Todd Deucet, the owner of Lazy K RV Park, experienced a $600 hike on his water bill.

ORIGINAL REPORT : Kendleton mayor expected to face judge for not abiding by open records request regarding water bill

"I had been paying the same amount for seven years, which is about $100 a month, and it went to 700 a month," Deucet said.

He sent a records request for the local ordinance the city said justified the hike. According to Texas state law, records requests must be turned over, or the request must be sent to the attorney general for further review in 10 business days.

If the review is required, the requester must be notified, but that didn't happen in Kendleton, so Humphrey was indicted.

"This is something that me myself, as mayor, has never been faced with all these open records. I was making sure from the beginning to get with the attorneys to make sure I was giving the right information. Once we were able to understand the process, we were prepared to move forward," Humphrey said.

More than a year later, Humphrey and his legal team met with a judge to see what documents had been sent and still needed to be sent and to set a court date for May 4, which Humphrey's team hopes to have the case dismissed.

"We want this case to be dismissed, but that is working with the prosecutors to come to a resolution that both sides will feel is fair," Humphrey's attorney Teresa Lakho said.

This ordeal coincidentally happened during Sunshine Week, a week nationally recognizing the importance of open records and record requests.

RELATED: Kendleton mayor promises transparency after indictment: 'No deviating from the truth'

Humphrey's team said they are dedicated to transparency and fixing the issues that allowed Deucet's request to go unfulfilled, but exact details on how the system will be fixed still aren't clear.

"I think training would be an important part of it, but again the specifics have not been worked out yet, so I can't speak on what will happen, but I do know we are working towards trying to get something done," Lakho said.

Although, this isn't the first time a local government failed to fulfill records requests.

You might recall an open records case that involved Mayor of Houston Sylvester Turner's former press secretary Darian Ward.

Ward was said to have not turned over records after a request, which was a costly consequence of that inaction.

In 2018, a local journalist requested all emails from Darian Ward dealing with her side business be turned over as part of an open records request. What that journalist got back was just 30 pages of emails. The concern that prompted the request was that Ward used her city email to conduct her private business, including pitching reality shows she would star in.

RELATED: Darian Ward, ex-press secretary for Houston mayor, indicted over withheld emails

When such a small number of documents was sent back, the city's inspector general searched county servers for Ward's email regarding private business.

That search turned up five thousand emails. At first, Mayor Turner supported Ward, agreeing with Ward's attorney.

"Because the law does not require you to turn over personal emails, she could not have violated that law," Ward's attorney said.

But a battle in the courtroom deemed it otherwise. City memos said Ward misinformed her bosses about the nature of her emails being sent on her public account.

RELATED: City press secretary has little to say when confronted by ABC13

"I want to apologize and take full responsibility for my actions," Ward said after court in 2018.

"She admitted to using her public office to leverage her private business," Stuart Tallichet, former assistant district attorney, said.

Eventually, Ward signed off on her guilt, paid a $500 fine, and resigned.

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