Friday, May 14, 2010

Another Loophole In Texas Open Meetings Act

Recently, I've had reasons to be disappointed with the Texas Open Meetings Act. In the words of the Texas Attorney General, "The Texas Open Meetings Act honors the principle that government at all levels in this state should operate in a way that is open and accessible to the people." The Attorney General doesn't say that, in practice, there are enough loopholes to keep the working of government just as opaque as the office holders want it to be. The law is one of those reforms that promises more than it delivers. A more cynical person might think that's not entirely accidental. (I know what you're asking yourself. Who is more cynical than me? Hey, I can be a hopemonger, too.)

My earlier disappointments are spelled out here and here. After the jump, today's lesson.

DART, in case you haven't been paying attention, is in some serious financial difficulties. Its main funding source, sales tax revenues, isn't living up to projections. Planned DART expansions are in real jeopardy of significant delay and by significant, I mean decades, not months or years.

What's to be done? How about if the mayors of DART cities get together to deliberate ways to get DART back on track? That's what Irving Mayor Herb Gears is thinking, as he's called a meeting of mayors of DART's 13 member cities.

What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, the meeting will be closed to the public. A closed meeting of elected government officials? Isn't that forbidden by the Texas Open Meetings Act, you ask?. Well, not in this case. As reported by Michael Lindenberger of The Dallas Morning News:

"Texas open meetings laws prevent public officials from meeting in private if they have a quorum -- and since this is an informal group with no power to directly decide anything, the meeting needn't be open to the public. That doesn't mean the private meeting is a good idea. I suggested Gears at least have his city secretary sit in and take accurate minutes, so there'd be a record of the discussion going forward. No dice. He said it was just going to be the 11 mayors, and no body else in the room."

Eventually, if and when the mayors have to commit their cities to any course of action, there will be council meetings with posted agendas and motions and recorded votes and minutes and all the other niceties demanded by the Texas Open Meetings Act. But if you want to know which mayors are pushing which course of action and what arguments they use and who is opposed and why, ... that is, all the deliberations that the Texas Open Meetings Act promises will be done openly, well, you're out of luck. The meeting closed to the public. Which is just fine by the Texas Open Meetings Act. You didn't really expect legislation to live up to the name legislators gave it, did you?

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