Kendleton Mayor Darryl Humphrey Sr., who was indicted in December for failing to turn over public records as required by law, said he was unaware of how to go about providing the information to the requester.
But two attorneys — one of them the former city attorney for Kendleton — dispute Humphrey’s statement, saying he was well aware he had to respond to the request and how to go about it.
“This is something that I, as mayor, have never been faced with — all these open records,” Humphrey told a reporter for ABC-13 in Houston on Wednesday.
“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.”
But the former city attorney for Kendleton said she repeatedly informed Humphrey he must turn over the records to the requestor, Todd Doucet.
“I told the mayor shortly after he received the request that he had to respond to (the request for information),” Martye Kendrick assured concerned council members on Thursday.
“I told him he had to respond or get an attorney general’s opinion on the matter. Now he’s throwing everyone under the bus to try to save himself, but he knew early on he had to respond (to Mr. Doucet’s request).”
Doucet owns the Lazy K RV Park in Kendleton.
On March 12, 2021, Doucet was in the process of erecting a small shed to house a clothes washer and dryer for the renters when he received a cease-and-desist order from the city of Kendleton.
Doucet said he talked to Humphrey about the matter but the mayor said Doucet had violated a city ordinance.
Doucet said Humphrey could not provide the city ordinance that prohibited him from building the shed.
“I believe he was just angry with me because my RV park was competing with the city’s RV park,” Doucet told The Herald last June.
When it was evident Humphrey was not going to provide Doucet with the ordinance or any proof his RV park was in violation of city statutes, the businessman hired an attorney on March 25, 2021, to help him resolve the matter.
Doucet’s attorney, Philip B. Knop, filed an Texas Public Information Request for the documents.
“After giving the requisite 10-days’ notice, with no response, this firm sent a follow-up email to Mr. Humphrey on or about April 6, 2021, requesting confirmation of receipt,” Knop said in a letter to the city of Kendleton dated Feb. 9, 2022 — almost one year after he sent the original PIA request.
“Shortly thereafter, Mr. Humphrey contacted this firm and spoke with a legal assistant and engaged in what can only be described as unprofessional dialogue.
“Specifically, Mr. Humphrey yelled at the legal assistant, made vulgar statements about Lazy K’s legally-entitled Public Information Request, and demanded counsel for Lazy K to contact Mr. Humphrey, and not (the city of) Kendleton.”
Additionally, Knop said in the letter, “Mr. Humphrey proceeded to inquire as to why Lazy K was requesting those documents instead of actually providing (the documents) that Lazy K was entitled to (under state law).”
Knop said he immediately returned Humphrey’s phone call but Humphrey did not answer and never returned his calls or answered any of Knop’s emails.
Knop said he also sent a follow-up open records request to the city of Kendleton on Feb. 9, 2022, along with his letter about Humphrey’s unprofessional behavior and failure to return phone calls, emails or respond to the original public information request.
Later that year, in November, Doucet’s RV park’s water bill was increased from $100 per month to $700 per month.
Doucet asked the mayor why the RV park’s bill was so high and Humphrey told him a city ordinance allowed the increase, the businessman recalled.
Doucet said he once again asked the mayor to provide the ordinance and any other city documents to prove the rate increase was allowed.
“He just laughed at me,” Doucet recalled.
“I think he just raised my rate because he was angry that I stood up to him,” Doucet said. “He didn’t like me asking for proof that I had violated city ordinance. He just wanted me to accept his word.”
Doucet said he watched Humphrey’s interview on ABC-13 on Wednesday and questioned the mayor’s veracity.
“After 14 years as a mayor, you would think he knows by now how to respond to a request for public information,” Doucet said. “Certainly, this isn’t the first time he’s received a public information request.”
Houston attorney Joe Larson, who volunteers his service for the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, agreed Humphrey’s excuse is pretty flimsy.
City officials statewide must undergo public information training within 90 days of taking office and the course completion certificate must be maintained for public inspection, he said.
“Certainly, if he has served as a mayor for 14 years he ought to be aware of his responsibilities regarding open records,” Larson told The Herald on Friday.
“It seems to me he was actively making it difficult for (Doucet) to obtain information.”
That could come back to bite Humphrey in the rear at trial.
In order to be convicted of the offense, prosecutors must show Humphrey acted with criminal negligence in respect to the open record request and “took a significant and unjustifiable risk” in responding or not responding to the request, Larson explained.
Did Humphrey act with criminal neglect?
“He ought to have known (how to deal with public information requests) after 14 years as a mayor. He will have a difficult time convincing a judge otherwise,” Larson said.
Larson said it is rare for a public official to be indicted on an open meeting or open record violation.
“The last time I remember this happening was about 10 years ago,” he said.
Humphrey was indicted on Dec. 16, 2022, on one count of failing or refusing to provide public records as required by Texas law under the Texas Public Information Act.
According to the Texas Attorney General’s website, the Texas Public Information Act provides a mechanism for citizens to inspect or copy government records. It also provides that governmental bodies may withhold government records from the public in specific instances.
The PIA generally requires a governmental body to release information in response to a request for information. However, if a governmental body determines the information is excepted from disclosure under the PIA, then both the request and information at issue must be reviewed by the AG’s Open Records Division. The ORD will issue a decision on whether the governmental body is permitted to withhold the requested information or must release the information to the requester.
The governing body must submit the request to review to the AG’s office within 10 business days, and must notify the requester that it has sought the advice of the AG’s office.
Humphrey is accused of failing or refusing to comply with an open records request by Todd Doucet and his attorney in 2021, and apparently did not submit the request to the AG for review.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office notified Knop that it had not received a request for an opinion from the city of Kendleton.
Fort Bend County District Attorney Brian Middleton’s office investigated the complaint against Humphrey.
Middleton confirmed he gave Humphrey an additional week to respond to Doucet’s request before presenting the case to a grand jury for review.
“Assuring compliance is the goal,” he explained.
Doucet told The Herald he still has not received all the information he requested.
Kendleton city council members told The Herald that they only learned of the mayor’s indictment by reading it in the newspaper.
They said they attempted to ask Humphrey about the indictment at council meetings but he won’t allow them to bring the subject up or explain why it is that city funds are being used to pay for an attorney to represent him when the city and city council are not involved in the case.
The Herald attempted to reach out to Humphrey after he was indicted but he did not return calls or emails and the city secretary, Christina Flores, said the mayor was under a gag order preventing him from speaking on the matter. She recommended The Herald reach out to DA Middleton for comment.
Middleton said his office cannot issue a gag order and he is unaware of a judge issuing a gag order.
Humphrey apparently decided to speak to a TV news team after Kendleton council members attempted to discuss the matter at Tuesday’s workshop but were denied from doing so — and the matter was published in The Herald.
Humphrey pledged Tuesday to put “personnel issues” on the next agenda but said they will be discussed behind closed doors. The council will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
A violation of the Public Information Act constitutes official misconduct and is a misdemeanor punishable by confinement in a county jail for not more than six months, a fine not to exceed $1,000, or both confinement and the fine.
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