Granite Shoals council to file complaint against Phil Ort
The Granite Shoals City Council voted to file an official complaint with the Burnet County attorney against Councilor Phil Ort, who is accused of violating the Public Information Act. The decision came during the council’s regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11.
Ort is accused of destroying public information and refusing to fulfill an official public information request in September regarding complaints received over his proposed Dark Skies Ordinance.
Ort recused himself from the council’s deliberations and left council chambers. Councilor Samantha Ortis began the discussion, reminding the council of the accusations against Ort and the possibility of filing criminal charges against him on behalf of the city.
Granite Shoals resident Kiel Arnone filed a public information request with the city on Aug. 31 after Ort posted on social media that he had received 41 complaints regarding violations of lighting rules that would support his proposed Dark Skies Ordinance. Per the wording of the Public Information Act, Ort had 10 business days to comply with the request.
City Attorney Joshua Katz told the council he reached out to Ort after the city received the request.
“Mr. Ort stated that he would not submit the responsive documents to me, and, later, he stated that he had in fact deleted Facebook posts and messages of that nature,” Katz said.
Destruction of public information and refusal to fulfill public information requests are both criminal violations of the Public Information Act, but it is not up to the city or the city attorney to decide if it has been violated. It will be up to Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo and his office to conduct an investigation and determine how this case will be handled once a complaint is filed.
Councilors expressed concern that the city could be liable for any violations of the Public Information Act, but Katz assured them otherwise.
“I would absolutely do my best and represent the city as an entity and say that the city should bear no liability for the actions of an individual council member who acted against the advice of legal counsel,” he said.
Initially, Councilor Steve Hougen opposed filing the complaint against Ort.
“The request, if it did or did not have merits, is not up to us,” Hougen said. “If the requester failed to get information, then he can report it to the district attorney.”
Arnone told DailyTrib.com that he submitted an official complaint to the district attorney’s office on Sept. 14 but had yet to hear back on the matter.
Hougen continued, saying the request might have been for documents that never existed and referring to another accusation against Ort made during a Sept. 19 council meeting in which Councilor Ortis presented evidence that Ort had fabricated many of the 41 complaints using the Facebook account of his pet parrot.
“It’s not a grand larceny case,” Hougen said. “I think we should leave it in somebody else’s hands. We have got plenty of stuff to do, and we need to progress with what we’d like to get accomplished in the city.”
Ortis countered Hougen, saying this is still a violation of the law.
“I don’t want to downplay what happened,” she said. “I think, as a good faith effort for the city, I’d like to make a motion that we file an official complaint with the county attorney.”
All except Hougen voted in favor of filing the complaint initially, but he changed his vote at the last moment, making it unanimous.
Refusal to fulfill a public information request could result in up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail. Willful destruction of relevant public information could result in up to $4,000 in fines and three months in jail.