MP3 (thank you to Mygnonne T for the audio tape creation!)
What the heck! Have to put in my comments here as I listen to this. There's a committee that was appointed and it almost seems like it meets NOT subject to open meetings act, to do design??? So you have the 4b committee, a design committee that was appointed by 4b, and then city council to approve it. (Chris Bryant). More input on who went on the design committee (Ricky Villa). If there's something on that committee that the city doesn't like, then wasted time and money. Less formal meeting with wants and needs, put out to their friends and neighbors. Informal process (Mike Jones). -Design will be open for public comment. Riverwalk committee reference - Connally Miller. [But Riverwalk Committee is open and has to publish when their meetings are. ]
Let me stop right now. Even if the 4b committee appoints a committee to do other things like design doesn't mean that the people on it can meet privately OR THROUGH EMAIL or just let their friends and neighbors know! No. According to the Open Meetings Made Easy PDF, what has to be determined first if the appointed committee is advisory in nature or not. (See page 7)
a committee may not be considered "advisory" if the governing body generally "rubber-stamps" the committee’srecommendations into final policy.
Seems to me that if the appointed committee is one that is hammering out all the details on the design and then would probably be rubberstamped, it ought to be subject to open meetings. If there are any members of the governing body on the committee, that also factors in. But regardless, the spirit of having open meetings is negated if they are private, only heard about after the fact and only possibly available through email requests. IF complying with Open Meetings Act, the committee has to publish when they are going to meet 72 hours in advance so that the public can come and then they either have to audio record their meeting or do minutes. (p 16 of the Open Meetings Made Easy PDF) They CAN'T JUST DISCUSS THIS OVER EMAIL. The public who wants to know about what happens at a meeting doesn't have to do an open records request to get emails of some discussion. And HAS to know in advance when a meeting occurs so that they can attend. Yes, the details of working out Oakdale stuff may be as dry as toast and lengthy and it may be tempting for people to say "Well, let's just do all this back and forth in email". but that defeats the whole principle of participatory, open government. At the very least, even if the public can't jump up and intervene with comments and disrupt a committee process, they can still GO and hear so that they can, again, at the very least, put in input AFTER the meeting. I'm sure that's why, in some cities, they actually have their own rules and laws requiring ALL committee meetings to be open and posted. That way, there's no ambiguity and the citizens of a community, in my opinion, are fairly served.
Here's an example of the law as of July30 2009. Some council people who were discussing business over email said the Open Meetings Act was a violation of their 1st amendment speech freedoms and a federal appellate court is going to rehear about the constitutionality of the Open Meetings Act. Here's what the Reporters Court said.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans (5th Cir.) to rehear a case in which a panel of the court questioned the constitutionality of the Texas Open Meetings Act. The Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of the Texas Attorney General, who is defending the law.
In the case, Rangra v. Brown, two Alpine City Council members were prosecuted under the Texas Open Meetings Act for exchanging e-mail messages about the time and content of a meeting. The council members were accused of violating a provision of the Texas Open Meetings Act that requires all deliberations and actions of government officials to be taken with a quorum in a public meeting. In response, they brought a lawsuit against the state of Texas arguing that the law violated their right to free speech under the First Amendment.
Let's repeat this. The Texas Open Meetings Act REQUIRES all deliberations and actions of government officials to be taken with a quorum in a public meeting. NOT OVER EMAIL.
On April 27, a panel of the Fifth Circuit held that the Texas Open Meetings Act potentially restricted the free speech rights of elected officials and thus was subject to a heightened constitutional standard of review.
"If this decision is allowed to stand, local elected officials throughout the 5th Circuit could violate the open meetings laws in their states with impunity," said Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish. "Such a scenario would make a mockery of open government in those states."
Here's what the Fort Worth Star-Telegram said in an editorial on August 6, 2009
[The Texas Open Meetings Act] straightforwardly requires that public officials discuss and conduct public business in the open and give the public notice beforehand that officials plan to meet and what they plan to talk about.
and that would include those who are appointed BY public officials on committees.
A knowing violation of the law could result in a fine between $100 and $500 and jail time up to six months.
Rangra and another council member at the time were briefly indicted in 2005 over an e-mail exchange discussing engineering firms the council was considering hiring to fix a local water problem. Because Monclova and another council member were copied on the e-mails, a quorum of the council was in on a discussion of public business without proper public notification.
The council people were not convicted and the statute of limitations ran out but they still asked the 5th circuit to hear it.
Still, the 5th Circuit panel concluded that the open meetings law restrains officials’ speech based on its content so that it must meet the highest legal hurdle for constitutionality — it must be a narrowly tailored restriction furthering a compelling government interest.
The panel has it wrong, though. The law isn’t trying to prevent the public from hearing speech the government doesn’t like; it’s designed to make sure members of the public know what elected officials are doing on their behalf.
This is why when the FULL 5th court of appeals hears this, it will undoubtedly be reversed. Or why bother to have open government at all if everyone that's elected or appointed can just discuss stuff without public meetings or hearings and off the record (unless someone knows to ask) in email?????
Let me ask this another way. Is there a good reason, even if one could say that an appointed committee (particularly one for doing the DESIGN of Oakdale) for wanting to prevent the public from knowing about and attending or from finding out from emails that one must do an open records request for? Particularly when it's pretty easy to just REQUIRE that any committee deailing with the public's business should follow Open Meetings Act requirements, EVEN IF NO ONE FROM THE PUBLIC GOES but would have the opportunity?
Okay. I'll listen to some more of this audio later.