Open Meetings Act helps protect officials, public interests
Updated: Sep 3, 2019
The Lampasas Dispatch Record takes its responsibility of watchdog very seriously. We believe it’s our duty to help safeguard the right of public information and to ensure transparent government practices.
We encourage citizens to familiarize themselves with the Texas Government Code and the Texas Open Meetings Act, which outline the duties elected officials have to the public in meeting openly about policy and procedure.
There are certain cases in which the practices of municipal government entities must be called into question.
Except in narrowly defined emergency situations, a quorum of elected officials -- meaning a majority of members from a public entity’s governing body -- cannot meet, whether planned or impromptu, and discuss government business of any type, without notifying the public at least 72 hours in advance. Discussions of administrative business are not excluded from this rule.
Additionally, a meeting or discussion by a quorum of elected officials cannot be held in private without the announcement of an executive session and a citation stating which section of the government code authorizes such a meeting.
All meetings and discussions of government business must be recorded.
These stipulations are outlined clearly in the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Recently, however, a quorum of Kempner City Council members held an impromptu, closed-door meeting after the adjournment of a regular council meeting to discuss what the city attorney later said were “matters of administration.”
Because there was no public notice or announcement of an executive session as required, this action drew concern from the Dispatch Record.
After speaking with city representatives, consulting an expert in media law and thoroughly reviewing the Open Meetings Act, the newspaper believes the closed session constituted a violation of the Texas Government Code.
We recognize, however, that even wellmeaning government officials can make mistakes on occasion. Something as benign as a few officeholders remaining after a meeting to chat casually can lead inadvertently to a violation of the law if the conversation drifts back to government business.
We implore our elected officials to handle their rights and responsibilities with care. While we don’t feel this recent Open Meetings Act violation was made intentionally, the fact remains that no one benefits from playing fast and loose with the law and government transparency. Often, it is the spirit of the law more than the letter of it that demands the most concern and respect.
To hold a closed-door discussion by a quorum of members, even if it had been within full rights of the Government Code and the Open Meetings Act, can arouse suspicion and damage trust between governing officials and constituents. This becomes even more important when considering the fragile relationship that has existed recently between the past and present City Council, and Kempner citizens.
We recognize that all of us are capable of mistakes. Elected officials, however, have a high fiduciary duty and should strive to avoid even the slightest appearance of possible wrongdoing. We ask that elected and appointed officials within all government entities seek to be forthcoming with the public and the media -- which is responsible for keeping the citizens informed. Officials must not assume that simply because they feel they have the right to act that action should be taken without full consideration for the concept of accountability as well as concern for public perception of their deeds.
News media representatives have always been mantled with the role of watchdog for our cities and communities. While we bear this obligation with gravity, the Dispatch Record will not seek to misrepresent a governing body or civic organization because that, too, would be irresponsible. We want to work with our governing authorities, not in opposition to them. And we hope they will look to do the same as we all work toward the common goal of community betterment.
Check out the original story posted by Lampasas Dispatch