Texas' "Sparkling City by the Sea" is not exactly a shining beacon of open government and transparency, as we've noted before.
In a Sunday op-ed, Corpus Christi's Caller-Times newspaper notes that three of 36 Corpus-area government entities examined by a team from the newspaper “were forthright for an entire year in the preparation and conduct of their public meetings.”
Those entities -- Taft, Port Aransas and Alice -- had no violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act in the past year that the paper discovered in its annual Freedom of Information project.
As the piece points out, though, the remaining 33 had some problems. Not a big surprise, especially when the problem most prevalent was “…vague, unclear or overly terse wording of agenda items.”
Writing lame agenda items isn't exclusive to governments in and around Corpus Christi. In our investigation of the sale of Rice University radio station KTRU to University of Houston, we found Rice and UH avoided an onslaught of vociferous objection that could have hampered the deal if UH had plainly stated on the agenda of its August regents meeting that UH was considering buying the station from Rice. This was dutifully noted in the petition to nix the sale submitted by KTRU supporters to the Federal Communications Commission.
In Corpus, the paper also found several instances of ambiguity in agenda descriptions of executive session matters, and points out that governments must explain why an item is to be considered in closed session. As the op-ed notes:
“In one of the several grievous instances found by Caller-Times reporters, the Beeville City Council held executive sessions to discuss personnel -- no further information was given. Then -- surprise! -- the council convened in public and hired a city manager.”
The Caller-Times, in another op-ed published on Christmas, recalled a city council meeting in Driscoll for which the agenda stated the council would hear a report from the police chief and “consider other issues the chief may provide.”
In that piece, the paper said:
“Those other issues, according to the meeting minutes, included hiring two police officers, discussing the department’s policies for impounding vehicles and adding stop signs in the town of about 800 people.”
Open meetings projects like this are needed in every state, of course, but the diminished status of journalism has given the Beevilles and Driscolls of the nation an open field in which to obfuscate its business. Thanks to the Caller-Times for keeping watch.