Texas has a fairly concise and well-defined law governing open meetings of government bodies. It doesn’t take a great deal insider knowledge to understand the basics.
One of the tenets of the Open Meetings Act is that a quorum — meaning a majority — of a governing body cannot meet without posting it in advance.
Three members of the Amarillo City Council met recently in an informational setting with the Amarillo Economic Development Corp. Since there’s only five council members, a gang of three comprises a majority.
Did they make any decisions? Did they cast votes? Did they discuss city business among themselves? Did they — in the strictest sense — break the law? Probably no on all counts.
I long have chided county commissioners, for example, for sitting at the same table at luncheons. I recall one time spotting three members of the Randall County Commissioners Court at a social event somewhere and admonishing them — in jest — against passing any tax increases while they were breaking bread together.
I also am acutely aware of how governing bodies can skirt the Open Meetings Act through what’s called a “rolling quorum.” The presiding officer, say, a mayor, can meet with one council member at a time privately to reach a consensus on a particular issue. Nothing in the law prevents such a series of meetings from occurring. It’s legal, although it’s not always the correct way to conduct the public’s business.
The three council members in question — Howard Smith, Eddy Sauer and Freda Powell — all are smart and astute enough to avoid falling into the trap of talking about city business without first notifying the public.
The council, whose five members all are newbies, are set to complete training on the Open Meetings Act. I trust they’ll be brought up to speed.
I’ve noted already that the Texas law is quite clear. In the future, perhaps all members of the council need to be mindful that the community is watching.