in Houston, Texas
Katy school system's closed-door speech may have violated state sunshine law
Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010, 02:44PM CST
By Lynn Walsh

The Katy school system may have violated the state’s open meetings law when its superintendent delivered his “State of the District” speech to an audience of political heavy hitters but kept out the public and the media.

No admittance sign

More than 250 people made the guest list a couple of weeks ago to hear Katy Independent School District Superintendent Alton Frailey discuss the successes the suburban school district had this past year. The public and the media were left off of the list -- and weren’t even notified that the speech was being given or the meeting was being held -- but according to InstantNewsKaty.com, a lot of big-name folks made the cut:

“Those on the guest list included a host of high-profile movers and shakers in the Katy area, with elected officials, corporate CEOs, business leaders and chamber of commerce and economic development officials all invited to the event.

The list of invitees included the entire Katy ISD Board of Trustees, the entire Katy City Council, state senators, state representatives, school district administrators and county commissioners representing the Katy area from both Fort Bend and Harris counties."

The leader of an open-government advocacy group in Texas, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, said the speech should have been open to all.

“As a matter of principle, FOIFT believes that a ‘State of the District’ speech should be given not just to the ‘movers and shakers,’ but to the other parents and taxpayers as well,” FOIFT Executive Director Keith Elkins said. "If parents who were left out are upset, I don't blame them.  They can, and should, voice that frustration and make it matter at the ballot box.”

According to school system spokesman Steve Stanford, the school district did not publicly announce the speech or distribute any sort of press release. “It (press release) just didn’t happen. We did not think to send one out, we just did not think about it. It’s not that we decided against it, it just wasn’t thought about at all,” Stanford said.

The school district doesn’t think it did anything illegal, Stanford said. “It was just a presentation that the superintendent made regarding the state of the district. There was no business being discussed, there were no decisions being made,” he said. “There was a cross section of community members that were invited but I would say, looking around at the end of the speech, 90% of the attendees were school district staff.”

Elkins had a different take.

“As a legal matter, given there were quorums of several governmental bodies in attendance and the subject matter involves business for which they have responsibility, there also appears to have been a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act which would require notice and mandate citizen access," Elkins said.

Stanford said he is not worried about legal action being taken against the district, and said it was the first time Katy ISD ever held such an event. He was not sure whether it will be held next year. “I was not a part of the planning and I have not spoken to those that were involved so I do not know if it will be done the same way next year,” Stanford said.

The entire guest list, obtained by InstantNewsKaty under the Texas Public Information Act, can be viewed here, though it was unclear how many of the invitees made it to the event.

Do you think Katy ISD should have invited the public and news media? Do you think the school district violated the open meetings law? We want to hear from you. Contact Lynn at Lynn@TexasWatchdog.org, 713-228-2850 or on Twitter @LWalsh.

"No admittance" sign created by Stephen Almond, used under a Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons.

Comments
sue
Saturday, 01/08/2011 - 01:34PM

You can invite 250 guest but not even one parent? It's a speech about successes of the Suburban school.. Elkins right about this.. I do think district violated the open meeting law. But, I'm sure kisd will not repeat the same mistake next time. We'll see....

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