Thursday, September 30, 2010

Texas Open Meetings Act Strikes Plano

If you've read this blog any length of time, you know I'm no fan of the Texas Open Meetings Act. It's an example of the law of unintended consequences. The intent may have been to ensure that meetings of public bodies like school boards and city councils are open to the public. The effect has been to drive more and more deliberations underground or suppress them altogether.

After the jump, a case in point from Plano ISD.

The Dallas Morning News had a story this week about the limitations put on public input at Plano ISD (PISD) school board meetings.
"For at least the past 15 years, Plano school board meetings, which already attract few people beyond those who work for the district, limit speakers to only those items on the board's meeting agenda."
The reason for this restrictive policy, explains former PISD trustee John Muns is because, under the Texas Open Meetings Act, trustees aren't allowed to respond to comments about non-agenda items.
"If someone just wants to vent, that's fine. But if we want to do something about it, then we really cannot speak about it at that moment. I think that was the only reason, so we could stay on task."

So there you have it. If you want the PISD to consider a new issue or idea, get it on the agenda first. But bringing up a non-agenda item at a school board meeting, even just to suggest adding it to a future agenda, is verboten. If that sounds like an effective way to suppress unpopular topics, that's because it is. All thanks to the Texas Open Meetings Act. A law meant to make local government more responsible to voters ends up making local government less open and transparent.

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