in Houston, Texas
Texas Open Meetings Act upheld in case brought by public officials in Alpine, other towns
Monday, Mar 28, 2011, 02:29PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Texas state flag

Elected officials in Texas, you will just have to go back to being really, really, really scared. The Texas Open Meetings Act is still constitutional.

On Friday U.S. District Judge Robert Junell in Midland issued a 37-page defense of the law, flattening each of the arguments made by public officials who sued, contending they were afraid to be more open with the people who elected them for fear of violating the law.

Junell wrote that the Open Meetings Act was neither vague nor over-broad, as suggested by attorneys for the frightened officeholders. The act is not a violation of the First Amendment because it does not suppress the free speech of these politicians, nor does it discriminate against them, Junell wrote.

“TOMA neither suppresses the speaker’s viewpoint nor the content of his or her speech,” the ruling said. “Rather, TOMA protects the compelling interest of government transparency.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who defended the act before Junell, called his ruling a victory for democracy. The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas applauded the decision.

This isn’t Junell’s first go-around with petrified public servants. They first got lawyered up in 2006, challenging the constitutionality of the open meetings act on similar grounds. Junell at the time issued a similar opinion, which the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in 2009, only to have the case dismissed when the original plaintiffs were no longer in office.

This time, the fear of public scrutiny had become a veritable panic sweeping across Texas. Be warned, citizens in these communities: Alpine, Wichita Falls, Pflugerville, Sugar Land, Arlington, Heath, Rockport, Leon Valley, Whitesboro, Hurst and Bellmead. At least one of the people you elected to your council is quaking at the thought of having to share what he or she does in the office you provided them.

***
Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of Texas flag by flickr user rcbodden, used via a Creative Commons license.
Comments
Sharon
Tuesday, 03/29/2011 - 09:10PM

The most recent violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act occured when Corpus Christi issued an ordinance in February that banned smoking paraphernalia such as bongs and pipes but excluded hookahs, which often are used to smoke legal tobacco. The ordinance also bans synthetic marijuana, such as K2. The City of Corpus Christi violated the Texas Open Meetings Act when it passed the ordinance in one meeting, as an emergency item, without giving proper notice on the agenda. nonemergency ordinances must go before the City Council over the course of two regular meetings before they can be approved. The city again violated the act during a subsequent meeting when the city amended the ordinance without posting notice on the agenda.

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