Thursday, July 23, 2015

Q&A: Strategizing in Secret

I read somewhere that the North Texas Municipal Water District (NTMWD) had agreed to discuss the method used to determine how much member cities pay for water. Then I read that the Richardson City Council went into closed session to consult with the city attorney to discuss the "1988 North Texas Municipal Water District Regional Water Supply Facilities Amendatory Contract."

Question: Are those two things related? And why would consultation with the city attorney on a water issue not just be done in open session?

Answer: That's two questions. Not a problem, we'll answer both.

First, yes, it's almost certain that the two items are related. The wording of the Richardson City Council agenda item and the NTMWD's recent decision are almost identical.

Second, how much the City of Richardson pays for water is set by contract with the NTMWD. If that contract is up for renegotiation, it makes sense for the city to do its strategizing in private. You wouldn't discuss how much to bid on a house for sale within earshot of the owner who has put it up for sale, would you? Why would the city discuss how much it's willing to pay for water within earshot of the supplier, the NTMWD? This is a case where a little transparency is sacrificed to secure a better deal for Richardson residents.

Update: By email, a reader questions, not whether this closed session might benefit Richardson residents, but whether it's allowed by the Texas Open Meetings Act. It's a good question. The stated agenda doesn't specify litigation, one of the very few reasons the TOMA specifies for permitting a closed session to consult with the city attorney. If the purpose of the meeting was simply to receive a "briefing" on the existing contract, as stated in the agenda, then it probably should have happened in open session. (But IANAL. I'm also not a big fan of TOMA.

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