Believe it or not, I am going to agree with an editorial published in the newspaper where I worked for more than 17 years.
The editorial published in the Amarillo Globe-News says the City Council needs to, in effect, get rid of its work sessions as they’re currently constituted and do all its business in the City Council Chambers meeting room.
That’s a good idea.
Here’s why. The work sessions, where city council members discuss much of the business on which they will vote in their open session, take place in a cramped meeting room. Most of the space in that room is taken up by a large conference table around which sit council members, senior city administrators and department heads.
The public is invited to attend, as the items under discussion are open to the public — until the mayor calls for an “executive session,” which is closed to the public to enable the council to discuss certain things exempted from public view under the Texas Open Meetings Law.
I’d share the editorial with you here, except that I don’t subscribe to the newspaper and, thus, I am unable to access the online edition because of its “pay wall” restricting access only to those who have paid subscriptions to the printed edition.
I left the paper unhappily in late August 2012, if you’ll recall … but enough about that.
The editorial suggests that the city shouldn’t scrap its work sessions, but merely take them into a room where more people can attend if they desire. If no one attends the work session, well, no harm-no foul. The council can convene its executive session, then open its regular session and pass the ordinances and other measures it has discussed.
I do not believe the city has kept secrets from the public regarding matters of public concern. I believe the mayor and the city administrator are honorable men who do not hide behind the Open Meetings Law to discuss things that must be kept in the open.
However, the work sessions have produced a perception among some in the community that these meetings somehow are meant to keep the public in the dark.
Let me stipulate once again: The City Council cannot keep the public away from its meetings except when it discusses certain items specified by state law Those items include pending litigation, sale or purchase of real estate and personnel matters. One major flaw in the state meeting law is that there’s little way to monitor what’s actually said behind closed doors; but that’s for the Legislature to change when it ever gets around to it.
The City Council work sessions are valuable in allowing council members an opportunity to discuss the pros and cons of issues before them. So, do it in the big room — the Council Chambers — to enable everyone who is interested a chance to hear it all with their own ears.