Wednesday, March 6, 2013

City Council Road Trip

Observant audience members at the February 25 Richardson City Council meeting might have noticed this item buried deep in the consent agenda:

Consent Agenda

If you hoped to learn what that was all about, you were out of luck. It received no discussion (consent agenda items never do). The Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) remains a deep mystery to me. All council deliberations are supposed to occur in public. In this case, either there was some communication going on beforehand, or the council is a peculiarly incurious bunch, or else mental telepathy is allowed by the TOMA. I'm going to go with prior communication. (Update: I have since discovered a memo deep in the Agenda Handout, not in the consent agenda, that explains the reason for the cancellation. A *very* observant audience member would have noticed this. My bad.) In any case, the council voted unanimously to "consider cancellation" of the March 4 council worksession, by which I think they in fact canceled it, without anyone doing any, you know, actual consideration, at least out loud.

After the jump, what it was all about. Sort of.

The mystery was solved, in a fashion, when this notice was posted concerning the canceled council worksession:

Collin County Day

Ah ha! So the council was taking a road trip to Austin to celebrate Collin County Day. What's Collin County Day, you ask? Is it anything like Tater Day? I did a search on the City's web site and the only document referencing "Collin County Day" was the cancellation notice itself. So, apparently, it's not as big as Tater Day. But we can guess what it is. Photo ops. Schmoozing. Greasing the skids to help ease legislation later that could benefit our fair city. Nothing out of the ordinary with that, right?

Still, I'm scratching my head at a new mystery. Why wasn't this publicized? Why didn't the council members tell Richardson residents where they were going, and maybe ask for whatever concerns residents might want them to carry to Austin? Why didn't council members post more photos of themselves celebrating in Austin? Isn't that what a photo op is all about? I hope the answer isn't because the trip involved a hangover and a tiger loose in the bathroom.

As it turns out, council member Amir Omar didn't go to Austin. Neither did Steve Mitchell, according to Omar. Omar posted on Facebook what he was up to instead. (Now, there's a candidate who knows how to exploit a photo op!) That led to this most interesting exchange on Facebook:

Mike Mazka Facebook comment

I won't even speculate what was behind Mike Maczka's curiosity, but somehow I don't think Omar's response was what Maczka was getting at. Maybe they, too, are communicating telepathically. It's all a mystery to me.


Mark Steger said...

Curiouser and curiouser. A notice is on the City's website: "Meeing With Former State Representative Fred Hill":

"Members of the Richardson City Council and Staff will be meeting with former state Representative, Fred Hill while attending the Richardson Legislative Day in Austin. The meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 6, 2013, at The Austin Club, 110 East Ninth Street, Austin, Texas 78701"

A few thoughts...

The notice says it was posted on the City Hall bulletin board. Is there a single electronic bulletin board residents can monitor, or do we have to search the entire city website continuously?

The notice fails to specify the time of the meeting as required by law.

Isn't The Austin Club a private club? Does this mean the meeting is not open to the public? Does it have to be?

Does the council really have to go to Austin to meet with Fred Hill? Isn't Fred Hill ever in Richardson any more?

Does the council just not care that they open themselves up to
needless criticism? Is that what unopposed re-election leads to?

mccalpin said...

The City Council is frequently present together in a quorum even though there is no intent to have a Council meeting. This happens all the time when they attend homeowner and neighborhood association meetings, committee meetings of the Council, the monthly meeting with all the HOA presidents, and, yes, when meeting with Fred Hill. This spring, it will probably happen at a number of the expected candidates' forums.

Whenever this sort of thing is coming up, the City Secretary's office posts a "Quorum Notice" in which the public is advised some variation of "A quorum of City Council Members may be in attendance, but will take no action."

You can see these notices at the west entrance to City Hall as well as on the City website at
From the City home page (, this can be found at Government->Boards, Commissions, & Meetings->Council Documents - HOA and other meetings .

Some local governmental bodies made a similar notice for their legislative day, e.g., San Antonio River Authority

Dallas County Water Control & Improvement District #6

Others, like Plano, just say that there will be one or more councilmembers present at a meeting/reception with their State senator - see Reception for Senator Florence Shapiro at Plano's website.

That is, this sort of non-meeting is done by all sorts of governmental bodies, and frankly, I am having trouble finding that many municipalities even bother to announce them - I don't know if that means it's not considered to be required or what.

I will look at your other questions presently...


mccalpin said...

Mark, I am not sure, but this section of the Texas Government Code is interesting:
"The attendance by a quorum of a governmental body [i.e., our City Council] at a meeting of a committee or agency
of the legislature is not considered to be a meeting of that governmental body if the
deliberations at the meeting by the members of that governmental body consist only of
publicly testifying at the meeting, publicly commenting at the meeting, and publicly
responding at the meeting to a question asked by a member of the legislative committee or
agency." 551.0035(b) of the Texas Government Code.

So it may be that the Legislature itself provides the exception to the TOMA.


mccalpin said...

So, to perhaps summarize:
1. The City did give notice of the "not-meeting" at the link I gave above. It sounds like you need to add this link to your Favorites.

2. The Council does ask all through the year for residents' input - remember the many discussions on Council goals? Residents shouldn't wait until the Council is boarding the bus to Austin to make their thoughts known.

3. "Why didn't council members post more photos of themselves celebrating in Austin?" - a classic "damned if you do and damned if you don't". ;-)

4. The time was not specified because this isn't considered a meeting subject to TOMA, hence the "Quorum Notice" instead of a "Meeting Notice". Ask the City Attorney - the other local governments don't seem to think that this is a meeting, either.


Mark Steger said...

Bill, thanks for the information. If the gathering in Austin with Fred Hill isn't considered a meeting subject to the TOMA, then I guess we should be grateful the city posts any information about it at all. But, really, "Update on the City of Richardson Legislative Agenda" sounds to me like something that *ought* to be subject to TOMA.

Do you know for sure that the city web page at is the electronic equivalent to the city hall bulletin board that the city is required to post notices on? If I monitor that web page, am I assured of seeing everything physically posted on that bulletin board, at approximately the same time?

mccalpin said...

Mark, that is surely a question for the City Secretary's Office; however, from my experience, the City Secretary posts meeting notices in several places:

City Council Regular Meeting Document - here, the posting of the "agenda" is the same as the meeting notice for regular and special City Council meetings (as is commonly done and is so noted in the Texas Government Code)

Council Documents - HOA and Other Meetings - these are all the "non-meetings" for the City Council, where a quorum might be present

Boards, Commissions, & Meetings - here all the City boards and commissions are listed, and you can click through to work your way down to the calendar (and the agendas) for each one

Note that so far as I know, the City asks each board and commission to behave as if it is subject to the Open Meetings Act, even though the advisory boards (like the Library Board) clearly aren't under State law - see page 13 of the Texas 2012 Open Meetings Handbook. I can personally attest that Carol Adams runs the Library Board this way, and for that reason, I gave the City of Richardson an "atta boy" at

Are there any other meetings that you want to keep track of?


Mark Steger said...

Bill, the notice for the meeting of the council (or a quorum of the council anyway) at The Austin Club had this footer: "I hereby certify that this notice was posted on the Civic Center/City Hall Bulletin Board on Friday, March 1, 2013, by 5:00 p.m." I assume that was done to be in compliance with some requirement to physically post notices in a public place (or at least just to be on the safe side). I want to bring that practice up to date and have the City designate a single web page to serve as an electronic bulletin board. Just like I only have to look in one place at City Hall to see posted notices required by state law, I want to look only in one place on the City website for the same thing.

mccalpin said...

"Sec. 551.043. TIME AND ACCESSIBILITY OF NOTICE; GENERAL RULE. (a) The notice of a meeting of a governmental body must be posted in a place readily accessible to the general public at all times for at least 72 hours before the scheduled time of the meeting, except as provided by Sections 551.044-551.046.

(b) If this chapter specifically requires or allows a governmental body to post notice of a meeting on the Internet:

(1) the governmental body satisfies the requirement that the notice must be posted in a place readily accessible to the general public at all times by making a good-faith attempt to continuously post the notice on the Internet during the prescribed period;

(2) the governmental body must still comply with any duty imposed by this chapter to physically post the notice at a particular location; and

(3) if the governmental body makes a good-faith attempt to continuously post the notice on the Internet during the prescribed period, the notice physically posted at the location prescribed by this chapter must be readily accessible to the general public during normal business hours."
See Texas Government Code 551.043.

I think your request to have a single landing page for links to all meetings is perfectly reasonable...putting all the meeting notices on the same page will be a lot more work, though...maybe they can duplicate the information (i.e., not redo the existing pages) on a new page - the Electronic Bulletin Board...I've got a call into one of the Council members anyway, and I think he'll agree that perhaps something can be done...


Mark Steger said...

Since we're engineering solutions here ... the City ought to have a *single* database for all meetings, then filter and sort the data in as many different formats as people want to see, including what I just asked for: a single landing page with all meetings in list format, sorted by the date the meeting was posted, so I can monitor the page and easily see what new meetings have been added since I last looked. This isn't rocket science. In fact, if the City isn't already doing something like this, then this idea will save someone a lot of work and minimize accidental oversights as well.

mccalpin said...

"the City ought to have a *single* database for all meetings"

Unfortunately, in the real world, multiple data stores were created for historical reasons, and it is a non-trivial task to integrate them.

Indeed, in the course that we teach on high electronic document production, we point out (a little tongue in cheek) that creating a new database is always a 2 year/$6 million project. But creating a process to extract the data to present it on the fly in a single location is considerably easier and cheaper, and doesn't involve breaking systems that were previously working.

Really, we shouldn't be engineering a solution (I am qualified to do so, but perhaps I shouldn't have opened that can of worms), we should be describing what we want the user interface to look like, which you have done...let's see what kind of response we get...


Mark Steger said...

Lisa Marchand Dunn added the following to that Facebook thread referenced in the original post: "Amir, not sure that 5 of the 7 are there if you, Steve and Scott didn't go. Scott's here in Richardson. Reported for jury duty yesterday."

mccalpin said...

Hmpf, in that case, the Texas Open Meetings Act wouldn't apply, as it applies only to a quorum of the Council...The City Charter states that a quorum for our Council is 5 (not the 4 that you might expect), and State law permits our Charter to set the number for a quorum.

So, if the reports above are true, then there was no meeting in Austin in violation of the TOMA...however, I agree that this is an issue that could use some clarity.


mccalpin said...

Mark, Councilman Scott Dunn pointed out a very helpful feature on the City's website, which may be what you want in terms of a single calendar...
1. Go to
2. On the lower right part of the page, you will see two tabs: "Events" and "Meetings".
3. At the bottom of that frame, you will see a smaller tab: Full Calendar". Click on the Full Calendar tab.
4. This new age shows you all the meetings anywhere on a city calendar, like Council meetings, Civic Center calendar of events, Eisemann events, Library events, and so on.
5. On the middle left, there is a pulldown menu under EVENTS CALENDAR. By default, the field reads "All Categories".
6. Click on the pulldown arrow and choose "All Public Meetings". The page will be refreshed with only "public" meetings, such as Council meetings and boards and commissions meetings. Remember that the City treats all boards and commissions meetings as subject to the Texas Open Meetings Act, even though many of them (like the Library Board) are not.

Does this calendar address your need?

I want to thank Scott for the pointer; we have so much content on the City website that we have trouble finding stuff...perhaps this calendar appeared in the overhaul of the website a few months ago and I just never noticed it...who knows...we, let me know what you think...


Mark Steger said...

Bill, thanks for the guidance on using the calendar information available on the City's website. I do admit it is well done.

Still, it doesn't quite serve the need identified in this blog post. Maybe I'm missing it, but the meeting with Fred Hill in Austin never made it onto that calendar even though it was posted on the physical bulletin board at city hall. And, even if *every* last notice did make it onto the calendar, there's no way to highlight meetings or events that were *added* to the calendar in, say, the last seven days (or three days, or 30 days, or whatever). If I'm interested in finding *changes* to the calendar, something like that kind of filter is needed.

mccalpin said...

Hey, Mark, it looks like you're right - that none of the "non-meetings" (like HOA meetings with the Council) are on there...and I don't see why they shouldn't be.

As for showing changes in the last few days, I guess that leads to a philosophical discussion of just how much effort (i.e., taxpayer money) to put into adding features to a calendar...well, bring it up in the next budget cycle (i.e., soon) and see where it goes...


Mark Steger said...

Bill: "just how much effort (i.e., taxpayer money) to put into adding features to a calendar"

Well, that gets back to my suggestion of putting all this stuff in a *single* database and making it available to the public. End users will slice it and dice it themselves, not costing the taxpayer any money and maybe offering value-added services to the taxpayer for free.