City reverses course: All restaurant violations to be posted online

More than three years ago, KHOU-11 did a story on how the public could access to the city's Health Department restaurant inspection reports:

When asked if these were public records that the public should be able to see, Salvagio agreed that they were public, and said she felt like the public already had access to them.

The city couldn't agree more.

"Call the health department and you can get the information you need," says Trahan.

The reality is that if you want to see an actual health inspection, you have to fax a request to the Health Department, wait about a week, go pick it up and pay 12.5 cents a page.

KHOU's Mark Greenblatt revisited the story yesterday and discovered the city is now posting some inspections online -- but not all:

It turns out the very worst violations, violations that could shut a restaurant down, are being intentionally hidden from you the public. And how do we know? Because believe it or not the city admits it.

“We’re not giving, apparently not giving the public all the information they need to make a decision,” Terasso said.

The problem: Anytime inspectors find the most serious health violations they write the restaurant a ticket. However, Houston officials have been leaving that information out of sight from the public. More than 4,000 of the most serious violations are simply missing from their Web site. And if you log online to lookup a restaurant’s inspection record? You won’t see a single note of the missing records.

11 News: “There are inspections with serious violations, missing from your public Web site. Would you agree that’s a serious problem?”

MT: “That is a serious problem.”

But he said city lawyers made the Health Department do it.

“I can’t guarantee that legal will release those in any timeframe,” he said.

But a little media sunshine has helped clear the city's thinking:

Very soon after KHOU sat down with the Health Department to question their policy of hiding the worst violations from the public, the City announced a complete reversal of that policy. A spokesperson for the Health Department told KHOU they had instructed their internet vendor to begin putting online all citation information previously withheld.

Posted by Anne Linehan @ 11/13/07 05:15 AM | Print |

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