Monday, December 21, 2009

Law & Order: Special Richardson Unit

Richardson City Attorney Pete Smith

The city of Richardson's attorney, Pete Smith, appeared before a city council work session to report the status of a lawsuit brought by William Gordon, a losing candidate in the 2007 council elections. Gordon sued over the city council's executive sessions, claiming they violated the city charter prior to a 2007 amendment authorizing closed sessions. A trial court ruling dismissed most of Gordon's claims but let stand the claim that the city council's executive sessions violated the city's pre-2007 charter. More after the jump.

Bob Macy pointed out, quite reasonably to me, that it's hard to imagine any city conducting personnel performance reviews, consulting with attorneys about ongoing litigation, or discussing real estate purchases and sales without doing so in executive session. Unfortunately for the city of Richardson and its residents, even though the Texas Open Meetings Act allows those exceptions, Richardson's own city charter did not prior to the 2007 amendment.

John Murphy pointed out, again quite reasonably to me, that when the city council learned that conducting executive sessions was forbidden by city charter, it ceased doing so until after the charter was amended by city election in 2007.

Pete Smith, lawyer that he is, pointed out that there has been no judicial finding that the city violated its charter and that the city is appealing even the trial court's decision not to dismiss that claim with the others. Smith said that the city claims that William Gordon's lawsuit is moot given that the city charter that was supposedly violated is no longer in force, having been amended in 2007. Smith said the city also claims that Gordon lacks legal standing, given that he failed to show that he had a distinct personal interest in any of the executive sessions or suffered any personal harm from them.

These explanations are unlikely to satisfy the city's critics (nothing is likely to do that), but they should help convince the more open-minded among Richardson's residents to let the case play out in court and not jump to conclusions.

1 comment:

Mark Steger said...

The City of Richardson posted this item in its 'Week In Review' for November 12, 2010.

"City Prevails in Open Meetings and Charter Lawsuit

"A lawsuit alleging the City Council violated the City Charter and the Texas Open Meetings Act by holding closed meetings has been dismissed. The Texas Court of Appeals for the 5th District issued its mandate November 8, 2010 after the plaintiff failed to timely seek review by the Texas Supreme Court of the July 2, 2010 decision of the Texas Court of Appeals in favor of the City.

"The plaintiff alleged the City Council violated the City Charter and the Texas Open Meetings Act by holding closed meetings because the language in the Charter required all City Council meetings to be open to the public and because the Open Meetings Act does not authorize a closed session when a charter contains such a provision. In 2007, the Charter was amended by an overwhelming majority of those voting and the language in question no longer exists.

"The trial court had denied all of the plaintiff's claims with the exception of whether the charter allowed the City Council to hold closed meetings. On appeal, the Texas Court of Appeals initially reversed the trial court decision, but following a motion for rehearing by the City, the Court of Appeals withdrew its opinion of March 18, 2010 and issued a new opinion on July 2 in favor of the City, affirming the trial court and dismissing all of the plaintiff's claims."