KCBD INVESTIGATES: Lubbock County explains violation of Texas Open Meetings Act
LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Our KCBD Investigates team is looking at the Texas Open Meetings Act and the role it plays in transparency and accountability.
The Texas Open Meetings Act, which is chapter 551 of the Government code, states that “every regular, special, or called meeting of a governmental body shall be open to the public.”
It was written to require Texas Governmental bodies, whether they be boards, commissions, city councils or even the legislature itself, do their deliberation in public and in meetings that are publicly posted.
That means if a majority of a governmental body is present, a meeting must be posted in advance, usually 72 hours, and must be open to the public.
“I think that’s what the Texas Open Meetings Act embodies is to make sure our public officials are held accountable. That nothing is done in secret and that everything has to be done in the open with the ability for the public to, you know, decide and observe and see how that body reaches a decision,” said Lubbock attorney Michael Uryasz, a partner at Greak Law Firm, whose specialties include municipal law.
“What I would say is we have a right as concerned citizens, as voters, to hold our public officials accountable. That’s the bedrock of representative government,” Uryasz said.
And the citizens ability to hold government accountable is dependent on our ability to know what deliberations are taking place and when. That’s what the Texas Open Meetings Act is intended to protect.
So, when the KCBD Investigates team learned from a Lubbock County employee that an information technology meeting at Lubbock County attended by, among others, all five members of the Commissioners Court was not posted, our team asked County Judge Curtis Parrish if the meeting was subject to the Open Meetings Act.
“What ended up being just an informational meeting that would have normally happened on a day to day basis, because we had two additional commissioners that showed up, it became a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Parrish said.
When a meeting goes from two commissioners to three, meaning a majority of the members are present, the law calls that a quorum. County business may be conducted and those meetings are required by law to be posted ahead of time, a directive Judge Parrish says he understands.
“So, what we did is, we put some safeguards in place so that would not happen again. I notified, I called the Texas Attorney General’s office, told them about that and their basic answer was ‘ok, just don’t let it happen again’ and we said ‘not a problem’,” Parrish said.
Parrish reaffirmed his commitment to the Open Meetings Act.
“It is very important that we abide by both the law and the spirit of the law when it comes to the Open Meetings Act. That’s how the people have confidence in their government. And if I would encourage any of my elected officials, is to be a servant, to serve the people that you are elected to serve. And by serving them, I think it’s a disservice to hide what you’re doing,” Parrish said.
An unposted meeting by a government body is illegal. Penalties range from having whatever action was taken during the meeting voided, to in extreme cases, incarceration.
These rules are enforced in order to keep government transparent and protect the public’s right to know.
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