Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Open Mike Night: Tell it to the Judge

Soap Box

A month ago, Richardson City Attorney Pete Smith briefed the council on the status of a lawsuit brought by William Gordon, a losing candidate in the 2007 council elections. Gordon sued the City over the council's use of executive sessions, claiming they violated the city charter prior to a 2007 charter amendment that authorizes closed sessions.

After the jump, new developments in the story.

After Pete Smith's appearance, William Gordon's attorney sent a letter to the City requesting time to counter some of what Pete Smith said. The request for agenda time was denied, with the city attorney declaring the request to be both unusual and inappropriate. Gordon's attorney was advised that Gordon, like any citizen, was always free to address the council during the visitors section, a regular part of the city council meeting agenda. So, Monday night, William Gordon used his five minutes of visitors time to report the exchange of letters and ask the City to reconsider the request for a half hour on the agenda for his attorney.

I have little doubt that Gordon's request is as unusual as the City claims. When Gordon filed his lawsuit, he was, in effect, declaring that further dialog was at an impasses and telling the City that "I'll see you in court". That the City might not be interested in giving a soap box to someone suing the City and seeking unspecified damages and attorney fees should not be surprising.

There's also a touch of irony in the fact that Gordon's lawsuit was triggered originally by the council holding executive sessions. So, now the council decides to have the city attorney brief the council on the status of the lawsuit in open session and Gordon complains about what's said.

On the other hand, even though the City has no obligation to provide a soap box to someone who is suing the City, even though the City does risk some damage to its reputation if it gives Gordon a soap box, I still think the City ought to grant Gordon's request anyway. Given that the lawsuit is about open government, it's to the City's advantage to avoid even the appearance of trying to suppress anyone or anything. More often than not, the guy on the soap box ends up turning his audience off. But deny him the soap box altogether and, fair or not, it's the City that risks ending up looking like the bad guy.

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."