Texas Open Meetings Lawsuit- Federal Judge Dismisses 4 Cities from Lawsuit (July 28 2010)


Texas Open Meetings Lawsuit- Federal Judge Dismisses 4 Cities from Lawsuit (July 28 2010)

30 July 2010 at 8:06:37 AM

A little background. Basically , this lawsuit has to do with whether ELECTED government officials can conduct businesses with a quorum on email.

We have commented here on our own example of conducting city business over email with a quorum. Note that an open meeting does not require deliberation to exist, merely that a quorum of elected officials is involved. And the problem is that if elected officials are putting out information regarding their opinions over email, how is the public supposed to know about that? IN other words, how many times have you been to a meeting and wondered when in the world that topic was even brought up before, because you KNOW you didn't hear it in open session? So, CAN cities say their freedom of speech is being thwarted since they can't talk amongst themselves on email that the public isn't privy to?

The ruling says that cities have no right to sue the state. From the San Marcos Record.

U.S. District Judge Robert Junell said the cities of Alpine, Pfulgerville, Rockport and Wichita Falls cannot sue Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and the state over the act because the issue involved revolves around individual rights.....

The cities and elected officials argued in a lawsuit filed last year that the act violates the First Amendment's free speech protections by barring elected officials from speaking in public or private about public issues. The plaintiffs argued some communication by a quorum of elected officials, including e-mail and social media websites, should be allowed outside of a publicly posted meeting.

The state had argued cities are created by the state and therefore cannot sue their creator for constitutional violations.

Here's the PDF to the order granting motion to dismiss from Texas Press Association. Here's part

Although the freedom of speech is a right that is guaranteed to entities other than individual persons, Plaintiffs have not cited a single case- and the Court is aware of none- that holds that freedom of speech applies to the political subdivision of a state or that a political subdivision can invoke the free speech rights of its citizens against its own state.

The cities that were dismissed from this lawsuit are City of Alpine, City of Pfulgerville, City of Rockport and City of Witchita (sic) Falls. That leaves the question about the individuals in this case that are still part of it. That includes Diana Asgiersson, Angie Bermudez, Jeff Browning, Jacques DuBose, James Fitzgerald, Jim Ginnings, Victor Gonzalez, Russell C Jones, Mel LeBlanc, Lorne Liechty, A J Mathieu, Johanna Nelson, Cindy O'Bryan, Todd Pearson, Charles Whitecotton, Henry Wilson, and Kevin Wilson.

I presume but will update this after I do a bit of checking, that the people listed above are council members who believe they should be able to conduct their meetings over email or other social media, like facebook.

UPDATE: Here's from the A-AS

The story listed the one local official whose name is on the lawsuit — Victor Gonzales, a member of the Pflugerville City Council. (Pflugerville is also one of four cities on the lawsuit; the others are Alpine, Rockport and Wichita Falls.)

The other 16 are:

Diana Asgeirsson, Angie Bermudez, James Fitzgerald and Johanna Nelson of the Alpine City Council

Jacques DuBose, Boerne City Council.

Jim Ginnings, Wichita Falls City Council.

Russell C. Jones, Sugar Land City Council.

Mel LeBlanc, Arlington City Council.

Lorne Liechty, Heath City Council.

A.J. Mathieu, Joshua City Council.

Cindy O’Bryan, Big Lake mayor

Todd Pearson, Rockport mayor.

Charles Whitecotton, Whiteboro alderman.

Henry Wilson, Hurst City Council.

Two names are recent additions to the lawsuit and are not identified by city: Jeff Browning and Kevin Wilson.

Same source says this about the attorneys

I was told by the City of Pflugerville that the lawyers, led by Dick DeGuerin, are handling the case pro bono, or at no charge. The other lawyers involved include William McKamie and Bradford Bullock of San Antonio’s McKamie Krueger law firm.

P.S. We've said before but will repeat, that the Texas Municipal League, which supplies advice to city officials, is on the WRONG SIDE OF THIS. Suggesting that those that wonder if they're violating the Open Meetings Act GO TO THE TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL to ask. The AG has a FREE hotline that anyone can call.

And don't forget that this lawsuit, which was brought by the 4 cities, which are now dismissed, is being paid for by PUBLIC TAXPAYER DOLLARS. SHAME on the remaining individuals who continue to be in the lawsuit because they want secretive government.

P.P.S Excellent editorial from the Waco Trib about this.

These cities’ leaders could have saved everyone a lot of money and time by asking constituents how they felt about this darkly nebulous idea.

We see this successful defense of the Texas Open Meetings Act as a victory for people who want ready access to information so they can make intelligent decisions when they vote. This is not, as some might conclude, a mere press access law, though it certainly benefits the press also. It’s really about public access and the right to hear our elected leaders discuss issues of the day so that we can fully understand their views, gauge their effectiveness and draw solid conclusions in our own vital role in a democratic republic.

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1 - Councilman Mel LeBlanc   6 Sep 2010 @ 1:54:41 AM 

My involvment in this lawsuit has nothing to do with any desire for secrecy or cryptic meetings.  While I object to the fact that I could be fined and/or jailed for violating this act, my fundamental beef is that the vagueness of the law as it is presently written leads to a myriad of interpretations relative to both "letter and spirit."  In my experience, this enables higher-level officials to project their own, sometimes self-serving perspectives of the Open Meetings Act in an attempt to muzzle and/or control the thoughts and actions of those under them.  To accuse those of us involved in this lawsuit of yearning for the days of smoked-filled backrooms where decisions are made in secret is an unfair carricature, and dare I say hyperbole designed to shut us up.  Embracing vagueness simply adds to the cacaphony of an already  confused world.    

2 - salon   6 Sep 2010 @ 7:25:17 AM 

@Mel Leblanc-I'd be interested to hear some examples of just how higher level officials are muzzling and controlling the thoughts of those underneath them. That in itself seems like a vague statement.

What is vague about having government officials discuss business in public where citizenry can hear instead of, say, over email or facebook or twitter, etc? People expect to be able to go to a particular place, after proper notice and a clear, detailed aganda is posted, to hear government business talked about. That's where officials can exercise their freedom of speech; where the public expects to hear, and doesn't have to scramble around to look elsewhere, or doesn't hear some items at all because they're talked about offline.

You may not be *yearning for the days of smoked-filled backrooms*, but your whole lawsuit, in my opinion, is definitely attempting to be free from the constraints of accountability to the public by following TOMA.

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3 - A.J. Mathieu   1 Oct 2010 @ 5:21:45 PM 

While I agree with some of the issues raised in the suit I was added to the suit as a plaintiff only after expressing interest.  I never expressly provided permission to add me as a plaintiff.  I have repeatedly requested the originating council remove me as a plaintiff, but I have never been provided proof of such.

A.J. Mathieu, Councilman, City of Joshua

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